More than 200,000 men each year in the United States are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Until recently, the fear of treatment options rivaled the anxiety of the disease itself. In fact, the two primary choices of treatment, conventional radiation therapy, or surgery, concerned men so much that a third non-treatment option is often taken. Its called "watchful waiting".

But now a more advanced form of radiation therapy, without most of the side effects and limitations of conventional radiation therapy, is proving to be a very effective treatment for men suffering from prostate cancer. It also presents a viable alternative to watchful waiting.

For the past seven years, proton therapy, a superior type of radiation therapy that permits a more precise delivery of a higher dose of tumor destroying energy, has been successfully used at the Loma Linda University Proton Treatment Center in Southern California. A recent study at Loma Linda University offers new information and hope in the battle against this devastating disease. The study concludes that when higher doses of conformal proton therapy are delivered at the target site, the results show a "low incidence of side effects" compared to conventional radiation.

The study further shows an extremely low rate of recurrences within the prostate treatment field. The result demonstrates that protons can be precisely delivered to the tumor, without causing most of the side effects of conventional treatments, and that the amount of energy delivered to destroy the tumors can be safely increased to enhance cure rates.

Proton therapy is often referred to as "bloodless surgery" since it has a surgical precision that leaves vital organs and healthy tissue near the tumor unaffected, allowing for a speedier recovery for most of the patients.

"Unlike conventional radiation," says Dr. Jerry Slater, Clinical Director of Loma Linda's Proton Therapy Center, " proton radiation has a well-defined high-dose area which can be manipulated to precisely surround an irregularly shaped target such as the prostate gland. This inherent characteristic of protons allows very little scatter to the bladder and rectal areas, higher doses to the prostate, and significantly less side effects."

Courtney Peterson, a recent patient from California who completed proton therapy treatment for prostate cancer, said: "They told me it would be a little more accurate. Well, that was an understatement. When they shoot around parts of my body that are very precious to me, you want a lot accuracy. And that's what I got. There was no sensation whatsoever. I had no side effects during my treatment process. It was a piece of cake. I'm more optimistic now about going on with my life. I feel I am healed. I've worked a lot of years --and now I can play."

Dr. Slater noted: "Our analysis shows that overall, the disease-free survival rate is running above 90 percent at four years and the side effects are considerably less than we would have expected." Currently, some 80 patients are treated each day at the Proton Center, with about half receiving prostate cancer treatment. Patients come to the center from all across the U.S., as well as from numerous foreign countries.

Clinical applications of proton therapy have been available for decades, but the high cost of building a hospital-based proton center has limited its availability. The proton treatment center at Loma Linda University is currently the only of its kind in the U.S., but new clinical-based treatment centers in other cities are being planned. A center at Mass General, developed in cooperation with Harvard, is expected to open in Boston later this year.

Proton therapy is being used in more than 20 cancer sites, and is also being used to treat other diseases.

Additional information on proton therapy for cancer treatment is available by calling 1-800-PROTONS (1-800-776-8667).


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