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.
I’m an average guy that has never been that concerned about my health care. But once I got into my 60s, I started doing annual exams and cancer screenings. I’m a native Houstonian and after spending most of our married life here, my wife Marie and I relocated to the Fredericksburg area after retirement.
When I had my annual physical exam done there in February 2020, blood work showed my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels were above a 4 for the first time. My doctor suggested I see a urologist for further assessment and a biopsy.
My biopsy was delayed until September 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when I learned that I had prostate cancer, with increased Gleason scores of 6 and 7. I decided not to make a decision about my prostate cancer treatment options until I talked to the doctors at MD Anderson.
Why I chose proton therapy for my prostate cancer treatment
One of my family members called to set up my initial visits. On my first day at MD Anderson, I had appointments with four different doctors to discuss my options.
Based on my case, I was given my treatment options, which were:
- surgery, known as a radical prostatectomy to remove the entire prostate;
- radiation therapy, which uses high-energy beams to kill disease cells; or
- proton therapy, which is like traditional radiation therapy but uses a different type of radiation and targets tumors much more accurately.
I have known other people who’ve had the different types of treatment I was offered. That gave me perspective to draw on. I knew the long-term side effects would be minimal with proton therapy. After meeting with Steven Frank, M.D., I knew that was the right fit. Dr. Frank’s demeanor and interest go beyond thinking of you as just his patient. He always wants to know how the staff treat you and how the patient experience can be improved.
How I minimized proton therapy side effects
During treatment, I did not experience any side effects other than fatigue. I followed my care team’s recommended diet suggestions. This made a big difference in how I felt every day. I stayed on a low fiber diet, ate smaller meals and no fried foods. I limited my caffeine intake to only one cup of coffee per day. I also limited alcohol intake to one glass of wine per week and drank a lot of water. Adopting these lifestyle changes during treatment has helped me create long-term healthy eating habits.
My support network helped me through prostate cancer treatment
While I underwent proton therapy treatments, Marie and I spent two weeks at a time with various friends throughout Houston. That turned out to be a blessing. Through this experience, I’ve learned that lifelong friendships shine their light just when you need them the most.
Of course, it wasn’t only my friends who lifted me up during my prostate cancer treatment. It was my team at Anderson, too. The staff at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center made a big impact on my daily treatments. When I walked in the building each day, the staff and I would greet each other by name. This really personalized my experience. They took the time to establish a relationship with me. That changed everything for me as a patient.
I made sure to do my part and prepare for each treatment. I would start drinking water three hours before my appointment and. I arrived early and had my bladder full for each treatment. As a patient, having a care team that really cares about you encourages you to make the effort and keep a positive attitude.
Listening to music during treatments helped pass the time. My radiation therapists enjoyed trying to guess which musical artist I’d choose each day.
I wouldn’t change a thing about my MD Anderson experience. All the doctors and staff members are rock stars in my book!
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.
Compassion helped me through prostate cancer
"My MD Anderson journey changed the course of my life well beyond just my five weeks there."
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."
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."
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."
Cancer-free since 2011: Why I chose proton therapy
"With proton therapy radiation, doctors can control where it hits, unlike traditional radiation where it comes out through the other side of my body."
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