The first patient treated at MD Anderson with proton therapy had prostate cancer and started treatment in 2006. Since then we have treated thousands of men who have prostate cancer with proton therapy.
About prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the U.S., but there is good news. If detected early, prostate cancer has a five-year survival rate of nearly 99%.
Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate (a gland in the male reproductive system found below the bladder in front of the rectum) grow and multiply uncontrollably, damaging surrounding tissue and interfering with the normal function of the prostate. The cancer cells can then spread to other parts of the body.
While surgery and radiation therapy may have similar outcomes for early-stage prostate cancer, radiation therapy is the primary option for locally advanced prostate cancer and can also be used for localized prostate cancer. For larger or more aggressive tumors, radiation therapy may be used in combination with hormone therapy. At MD Anderson, patients have the option to choose a newer and more precise form of radiation therapy called proton therapy.
In February 2020, I went for my annual checkup in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I live. I received an excellent bill of health. However, I realized that my bloodwork didn’t include the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. I went back the next day for a PSA test.
I had just told my friends and family that I was in great health. But when I got the results from the PSA test, I had to share alarming news: my PSA level was 18.
A urologist confirmed that there was a lump on my prostate and ordered an MRI, bone scan and biopsy. Based on the results, my doctor determined that I had stage II prostate cancer.
Finding the right prostate cancer treatment
After hearing my PSA levels were high, I researched prostate cancer treatment options, and my friend and mentor shared his experience and suggestions with me. I decided on MD Anderson and hoped I’d be a candidate for proton therapy.
I had my first appointment at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in June 2020. Because my Gleason score was high, my radiation oncologist Seungtaek Choi, M.D., recommended that I start hormone therapy prior to receiving proton beam radiation. I started on a daily bicalutamide pill along with receiving a Lupron shot every six months. I returned to Houston in November to have the simulation to prepare for proton therapy.
Moving my art studio to Houston for treatment at MD Anderson
I moved to Houston in January 2021, to prepare the rental house for a three-month artist residency program that I would conduct while I was in treatment. I have been in the vanguard of American art jewelry movement, an “Artrepreneur” as I like to refer to myself, for nearly five decades. My compositions combine silver and non-precious metal elements with plastics and found objects. I create distinctive wearable pieces I call “Techno-romantic jewelry objects.”
I used my time in Houston to get ready for my upcoming local gallery exhibits. I rented a house that I could use as my studio. My plan was to keep living my normal daily life as best as I could. I loaded my kitchen gear and studio equipment into a minivan and trailer, even bringing my scooter and kayak. I wanted to enjoy my normal routine of painting, cooking and sculpting. My girlfriend, Jan, and several friends came to stay with me and help make everything operational for me to work.
Creating artwork during proton therapy treatments
Several days before my first treatment, I had surgery to have fiducial markers placed near the tumor in my prostate. These are tiny metal objects that help doctors line up the radiation beam during treatment to target the tumor. Prior to surgery I remember asking my surgeon, David Irwin, M.D., what the fiducials looked like. He pulled out his phone, looked up the image and showed it to me.
Immediately after waking up from surgery, I anxiously asked the nurse for a pen and paper. I drew the image that had occurred to me while I was sedated. The shape at the bottom of the drawing is the shoe of the markers that he showed me and then installed. This became the basis for the graphic I designed that other prostate cancer patients now sign in the Proton Therapy Center’s dressing room. I also included things I remember about the proton therapy machine in the drawing.
I scheduled my proton therapy appointments for the late afternoon so that I could have a full day to work – and I worked more furiously than usual. I even worked in the dark and freezing cold when a winter storm caused power outages in Houston. I was artistically inspired and very productive.
I also exercised daily and ran several miles at the nearby park. I rode my scooter to my treatments so I could tour local parks.
I had my last proton therapy treatment on March 19 and was ready for the gallery exhibit of paintings, drawings and prints in Houston’s historic Third Ward the following day. The week before, I’d held a jewelry show to display my latest work.
Giving back through the art community
For a few months after treatment, I experienced minimal side effects, but they’ve subsided over time.
I’ve always had an optimistic attitude about life. I want to make the best of my remaining time on the planet, be a benefit to others and have a good time doing it.
I shared my treatment experience on my Facebook page and received an email from a client who had just received a prostate cancer diagnosis. I shared my experience with him and talked him through the process. I look forward to mentoring and helping others from my experience. I also plan to encourage others to get yearly check-ups and seek treatment at MD Anderson if they receive a cancer diagnosis.
I am thrilled with the results of my proton therapy treatment and the incredibly caring staff at MD Anderson. Thanks to them, I’m looking forward to creating more art while being cancer-free!
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
Benefits of proton therapy treatment for prostate cancer
There are many benefits of proton therapy treatment for prostate cancer at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center including:
- Precise, accurate delivery of even high radiation doses to kill cancerous cells in the prostate
- Minimal impact to surrounding, healthy tissues and vital organs, such as the bladder and rectum
- Less invasive – treatment is painless and requires no downtime
- Provided in a comfortable, outpatient setting with free parking
Patients who come to MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center may be treated with pencil beam scanning proton therapy, also called spot-scanning, which is an even more advanced type of proton therapy. Pencil beam proton therapy delivers a single, narrow proton beam (which may be less than a millimeter in diameter) that is magnetically swept across the tumor, depositing the radiation dose like a painter’s brush strokes, without the need to construct beam shaping devices.
Using rapidly fired pulses, the pencil beam hits each planned spot within the tumor with the prescribed amount of radiation, starting at the deepest layer and working in succession, layer by layer, until the whole tumor is covered. Typical tumors require between 1,000 to 2,000 separate spots arranged in approximately 20 to 30 layers for a single pencil beam treatment. Though highly effective, pencil beam proton therapy treatment takes only a few minutes to deliver.
Pencil beam scanning proton therapy:
- Uses a proton beam which may be less than a millimeter wide to target prostate cancer with even greater precision
- “Paints” the tumor with proton radiation, allowing even more accurate treatment of tumors that are oddly shaped or that have varying depth
- Can be directed to a prescribed depth in tissue in the prostate, which minimizes dose to healthy surrounding tissues, such as the bladder and rectum
- Optimizes the ability to treat a patient’s prostate tumor without compromising quality of life – during and after treatment
- Results in quicker treatment times because no apertures or shaping devices are needed
Talk to your radiation doctor to see if this is the right type of proton therapy for you.
With proton therapy for prostate cancer, treatments typically take only 15 to 20 minutes each day and are delivered five days a week for approximately eight weeks. There is little to no recovery time after treatment, and the risk of immediate post-treatment impotency is minimized, especially in those with good sexual function prior to treatment. Most patients tolerate the treatments extremely well and are able to continue to work, exercise and remain sexually activity during their treatment course and immediately after treatment is complete.
For more on what to expect watch this video of former Proton Therapy Center patient Joe DePasqual. He discusses why he chose proton therapy, his favorite thing about MD Anderson, being proactive in his treatment process, and how he chose to spend his free time in Houston.
From referring physician to proton therapy patient
As an internist with his own practice, Howard Dillard, M.D., has referred patients to MD Anderson for years. But he never imagined he’d become a patient here himself.
Treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic
"MD Anderson's pathologists reviewed my biopsy and found that it showed more aggressive than we’d initially thought."
Compassion helped me through prostate cancer
"My MD Anderson journey changed the course of my life well beyond just my five weeks there."
Personalized treatment for my prostate cancer
"When I walked in the building each day, the staff and I would greet each other by name."
Finding reassurance with proton therapy treatment
"The more you know about your cancer, the better equipped you will feel to face the road ahead."
Why I chose proton therapy
"When I went in for a pre-op appointment for knee surgery, I noticed my PSA levels were high. Further testing revealed that prostate cancer had spread to my lymph node."
Paying it forward after proton therapy treatment
"By being a co-leader of the ProtonPals patient support group, I am glad to help others in their journey with treatment and healing."
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