Higher-Precision Radiation Therapy Offers New, Better Choices to Prostate Cancer Patients

An innovative form of radiation therapy at Cedars-Sinai is offering high-risk prostate cancer patients a new treatment option that minimizes radiation exposure to healthy surrounding tissues, thus lowering side effects. This new treatment regimen, known as high dose-rate brachytherapy (HDR), was recently introduced to the medical center's cancer-fighting arsenal by radiation oncologist Paul Song, MD.

"Studies suggest adding high dose-rate brachytherapy as a boost to conventional radiation treatment leads to better treatment response in men with high-risk prostate cancer," said Song (pictured at right), who works in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Cancer Center. His patient, Robert Hazard of Thousand Oaks, has had positive results from the new regimen.

Hazard was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago after a series of blood tests revealed elevated prostate-specific antigen, referred to as PSA. PSA is a protein produced by the prostate gland. Elevated levels of the protein often indicate prostate cancer. Hazard came to Cedars-Sinai seeking a second opinion on his treatment options. He became an ideal candidate for HDR brachytherapy after a biopsy revealed a bulge on the prostate gland, indicating possible advancement of the cancer.

Thanks to brochures he'd read at a prostate support group gathering, Hazard was aware of the treatment method before he met with Song, who was recruited to Cedars-Sinai for his expertise in treating cancers with HDR brachytherapy.

"I wanted the doctor with the highest skill set, and after meeting with Song, and learning about people he had worked with in the past, I knew I wanted to work with him," Hazard said. "I also recognized the known side effects associated with other treatments, and I preferred this."

The treatment's tighter focus of radiation reduces radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissues, such as those of the bladder and rectum, reducing the risk of side effects. And, unlike some other treatment protocols, HDR doesn't use permanent radioactive seeds implanted in the prostate. Instead, the treatment regimen calls for hollow catheters inserted in and around the prostate to deliver precise, three-dimensional doses of radiation. These catheters are later removed.

Song said HDR radiation can be delivered at a high dose within 10 to 15 minutes over one to two days as opposed to radioactive seeds implanted during a two- to three-month period.

"So not only are we able to give higher doses in a shorter time frame, we are not permanently leaving anything inside the patient," Song said.

Since his procedure, Hazard has had follow-up appointments with doctors to check his PSA levels.

"It worked, and I am just so thrilled," Hazard said.

"This is what we expect," said Song, referring to Hazard's PSA level dropping after treatment. "He has an excellent chance of being cured and having no biochemical evidence of disease."