Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men after skin cancer. Approximately one out of every seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their life. However, it’s rare for those who are younger than 40 to develop prostate cancer. Nearly 6 out of 10 prostate cancer patients diagnosed are over the age of 65. In this article, we’ll explain why proton therapy is an ideal treatment option for many prostate cancer patients.
The prostate surrounds the urethra and is located beneath the bladder. The gland secretes prostate fluid as one of the components for seminal fluid. Cancer begins to develop in the prostate when the cells of the gland begin to grow uncontrollably and form a malignant tumor. Left untreated, prostate cancer can spread to other parts of the body such as the bladder, rectum, bones, and lymph nodes where it can become life threatening.
Fortunately, modern medicine has made the survival rates of prostate cancer fairly high. Up to 2.9 million Americans previously diagnosed with prostate cancer are still alive and well today.
- RELATED CONTENT: Learn more about Proton Therapy for prostate cancer treatment
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Common Types of Prostate Cancer
The majority of prostate cancer diagnoses involve adenocarcinomas, or cancers which develop immediately within the gland cells. It is possible to develop other types of prostate cancer, including:
- Ductal adenocarcinoma – begins in the ducts of the prostate gland
- Transitional cell cancer – begins in the bladder and spreads to the urethra, prostate, and nearby tissues
- Squamous cell cancer – begins in the flat cells of the prostate gland
- Small cell prostate cancer – a type of neuroendocrine cancer made up of round, small cells
Additional types of prostate cancer such as sarcomas and carcinoid are considered extremely rare. Those who are diagnosed with prostate cancer are likely to have adenocarcinomas.
Risk Factors and Prevention
Risk factors such as age, ethnicity, and family history have been known to influence the chances of an individual’s development of prostate cancer. However, it should be noted that risk factors don’t have a direct impact on the development of cancer.
Individuals over the age of 50 are more likely to develop prostate cancer. In fact, a full 80% of those who are diagnosed with prostate cancer are over the age of 65.
According to the CDC, African American men are more likely to be at risk for prostate cancer than other ethnicities and are more likely to develop aggressive tumors. On the other hand, Caucasian individuals are just under the average rate of prostate cancer diagnoses whereas Hispanic individuals also have a lower risk. Patients of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have the lowest risk of developing prostate cancer.
A family history of prostate cancer can have an impact on your chances of developing cancer. Only 5% of prostate cancer cases are inherited, but up to 20% of cases are familial, meaning common lifestyle factors and shared genes may have had an influence on the development of cancer.
While risk factors don’t have a direct impact on the development of prostate cancer, they can motivate you to monitor your lifestyle more closely. To lower your risk of developing prostate cancer, it’s recommended to eat a low-fat diet and exercise regularly. However,it’s best to monitor your health by receiving routine checkups and prostate screenings from your doctor.
Proton Treatment for Prostate Cancer Patients
Proton therapy is radiation treatment for cancer patients. Also called proton beam therapy, proton therapy involves the focusing of proton particles into a beam, which is then delivered to the cancer cells in a non-surgical procedure. The positively charged particles can be controlled to stop at the tumor site, enabling the cancerous tissues to be destroyed with high levels of radiation without causing damage to near healthy tissue and vital organs. Proton therapy is considered more accurate than other types of radiation therapy, and also non-surgical and noninvasive with minimal side effects. What’s more is that the treatment requires little to no recovery time, nor does the radiation have an impact on the patient’s energy levels in comparison to other cancer treatment options.
Proton therapy exhibits higher success rates in prostate cancer patients
According to a study published in 2013 by the University of Florida, prostate cancer patients who received proton therapy treatment were found to be free of cancer progression for five years after their treatment. Patients with low to medium risk prostate cancer experienced a success rate of 99% while those with high risk prostate cancer experienced a success rate of up to 76% compared to conventional radiation.
Those who choose proton therapy are also proven to experience fewer complications than those who choose other types of treatment such as, surgery or conventional radiation. For instance, studies on prostate cancer report that 28.6% of those who received a prostatectomy (a surgical procedure removing the part of or the whole of the prostate gland) experienced major complications in comparison to the 1% of those who received proton therapy.
But what makes proton therapy so much more successful than other prostate cancer treatments? The answer lies in the protons themselves.
Proton Therapy vs. Conventional Radiation Therapy
Unlike proton therapy, conventional radiation treatments utilize photons to deliver low levels of radiation to the cancer tissues. The lower levels of radiation in addition to the lower mass of the beam in comparison to a proton treatment enable the radiation to cause damage to not only the cancerous tissue, but also the surrounding healthy tissue.
Proton therapy uses positively charged subatomic particles called protons, which are located in the nucleus of an atom. Because the charge of the proton beam is higher than the photon beam, a clinician can control the proton radiation in the patient’s body. The electrons in the patient’s body slow down the protons delivered from the beam. This results in an energy release that can destroy cancerous tissue. Unlike conventional radiation therapy, the clinician can use the proton beam to target the cancer cells in the body specifically, allowing for a more successful and far less damaging procedure.
Proton Therapy Is Proven to Enhance Quality of Life
According to a national survey, those who received proton therapy to treat their prostate cancer reported experiencing a better quality of life involving urinary and bowel function during and after their proton therapy treatments in comparison to those who received conventional radiation treatments. More than 70% of prostate cancer patients who received proton therapy additionally noted that the treatment had no impact on their quality of life overall compared to conventional radiation.
Two studies conducted by the University of Texas confirm that those who receive proton therapy treatments for prostate cancer show an improved quality of life in comparison to those who receive other treatment options.
“In general … patients are interested in learning how they will do compared to those treated with other modalities, but, more importantly, they want to know how they are going to do, relative to their own normal state of health,” said Andrew K. Lee, M.D., who led both studies. “With such a large data set, this study offers us a guide to have that discussion with patients considering proton therapy.”
Up to 97% of those who receive proton therapy treatment for their prostate cancer said they would recommend other patients to receive proton therapy as well.
Proton Therapy Success Stories
It’s one thing to hear about the success rate of proton therapy treatment for those with prostate cancer in comparison to conventional radiation therapies. It’s another thing to hear the success stories straight from the mouths of those who have survived and keep surviving.
Walter Knight, an Army pilot, biker, and all around adventurer, was diagnosed with prostate cancer only six weeks after being prescribed testosterone for his anemia.
“There are unending volumes in thousands of books that attempt to describe the kaleidoscope of feelings and emotions that follow a diagnosis of metastatic cancer,” said Knight in his journal entitled the Proton Chronicles. “I’m sure that like many, I attempted to rationalize or even justify the situation, but when faced with real mortality, … your life and that of your family is forever altered.”
After considering surgery and consulting multiple online forums, Knight finally decided on proton therapy to treat his cancer. Over the course of 20 hypofractionated treatments, Knight continued to bike on his favorite trails and play hockey in the local ice rink.
“It’s really kind of difficult to get your head around the whole situation,” said Knight about his proton treatment. “This is happening at the cellular level and it’s absolutely painless.”
Earl Malpass, a mission pilot and pastor, also received proton therapy after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Malpass, who’s lived in Alaska for over 15 years with his wife, Lynn, chose to seek medical care in other states after receiving his diagnosis.
After consulting multiple cancer centers and discussing his options with a doctor who incorrectly referred to proton therapy as experimental, Malpass chose to receive treatment from Provision CARES Proton Therapy.
“It’s been first-class,” said Malpass. “They’re helping me. They’re also having an impact on my wife and son, and the families there in Manley Hot Springs. They’re having an impact far greater than you can imagine.”