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 spring 2017, I went in for a routine physical and heard the words that no guy wants to hear: “You have late-stage aggressive prostate cancer, and we are concerned that it has spread.”
Up until that moment, I had been busy doing life, going to work and spending time with my family. I was overwhelmed with questions: How will this impact my family? How will this impact my career? And then I was suddenly worried I had missed my purpose in life.
Finding the right prostate cancer treatment
I didn’t know much about proton therapy. But my research confirmed that MD Anderson and Dr. Frank were the best of the best.
Compassion from afar even during Hurricane Harvey
I was supposed to have my first appointment at MD Anderson in August 2017, but it had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Harvey. Even with the impact of the storm in Houston, MD Anderson staff still called to make sure I had everything I needed in preparation for my treatments. I hadn’t been impacted by the storm, but many of them were experiencing personal devastation from the flood. I understood then the level of caring I’d be getting at MD Anderson. Many can talk a good game of service, but MD Anderson lived it out at a time when most would’ve understandably been self-focused.
My proton therapy treatment
I started proton therapy in October 2017. The clinical trial I enrolled in required 15 treatments over five weeks instead of the normal 39 treatments over an eight-week period.
My daughter created a verse of the day for me on decorated recipe cards. I pulled one out each morning and let that guide my day. Walking into treatment every day, I was greeted by cheerful therapists. They made the hard stuff easy. My main side effect was fatigue. But I was able to get extra rest on days I needed to. The people who had the biggest impact on me were Dr. Frank, nurse Josh Savoie and radiation therapist Denice Jones. Their leadership and encouragement make a big difference to the patients at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.
During my stay in Houston, I found a fellow prostate patient during treatment to spend time with. We watched a lot of baseball together. We were both in Houston without our families, so it helped to connect with another out-of-towner going through the same experience.
Life after my prostate cancer treatment
I’ve been cancer-free for three years, and I see life differently as a cancer survivor. My cancer journey was a wake-up call. I now want to use my journey to help others by helping them live with more intentionality and purpose.
As part of my role in helping business owners sell and transition out of their business, I now also provide executive coaching to other men and business owners to help them think through where they are in life. My MD Anderson journey changed the course of my life well beyond just my five weeks there, and I hope I can help others in whatever time I have with them.
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.
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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