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Health Team

Right prostate cancer therapy can be a lifesaver

Posted April 17, 2012 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated April 17, 2012 6:23 p.m. EDT

— About 6,000 North Carolina men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, and finding the right treatment can be a lifesaver for them.

Weight training is just part of 68-year-old Robert Harrison's nearly 10-year fight with prostate cancer. He admits that the fight would have been shorter if he had begun the recommended screening at age 50.

"Like a lot of men, I didn't go to the doctor. I took my wife, but I didn't go," Harrison said.

The stakes for prostate cancer screening are high. It's the second most-common type of cancer among American men and the second leading cause of cancer death in men, according to the American Cancer Society. One in six men will get the disease, and one in 36 will die from it.

Radiation treatments can be effective when the tumor is still within the prostate gland.

Advances in radiation therapy better target the prostate "and minimize the dose to the organs next to the prostate," said Dr. Ronald Chen, a radiation oncologist with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Chen is the lead author of the first large study comparing the three different types of radiation therapy. The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Conformal radiation therapy is an older technology that has largely been replaced by intensity-modulated radiation therapy, which is the most commonly used treatment.

The third one is proton beam therapy. "It's proposed that it's an even better way of delivering radiation," Chen said.

The researchers found that IMRT had a higher cure rate and fewer side effects than the older CRT. However, IMRT and proton beam had similar cure rates.

"Proton therapy actually had a higher rate of rectal side effects," Chen said.

Part of the significance of the study lies in cost. While the IMRT and proton beam therapy had similar cancer survival rates, IMRT had fewer side effects and cost $4 million. Proton beam therapy costs $200 million.

Based on those findings, IMRT appears to be the best and most cost-effective treatment option for prostate cancer patients, Chen said.

Harrison stressed that all treatment begins with the first step: "Get treatment."