Take prostate cancer lying down - for precise radiation dose

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Dr. Jonathan Briggs consults with a patient before a radiation treatment with the TrueBeam system. COURTESY BEAUFORT MEMORIAL HOSPITAL

In their youth, most men don't think about their prostate. But starting around age 40, the squishy, ping pong ball-sized gland inside their groin begins to grow, often causing bothersome issues that affect their daily life.

More than 50% of men in their 60s, and as many as 90% in their 70s and older, suffer from symptoms of an enlarged prostate, a condition known as BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia).

The most common complaints include straining to urinate, not being able to empty the bladder, needing to urinate two or more times per night and a weak urine stream.

For some men, prostate issues can become even more serious. About one in nine will develop prostate cancer during his lifetime. The most common cancer in American men other than skin cancer, it will claim some 31,600 lives this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Fortunately, prostate cancer can be cured if caught early. For early stage prostate cancer treated with radiation therapy, the survival rate is in the 95% range.

This June, Men's Health Month serves as a reminder for men between the ages of 55 and 69 to have their annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening. This simple blood test is especially important because prostate cancer in its early stage does not cause symptoms.

Patients diagnosed with prostate cancer have several treatment options, among them intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), a process that typically involves daily radiation treatment for six to nine weeks.

With today's advanced linear accelerators, we can safely and painlessly deliver precise doses of high-energy X-rays to a patient's tumor while minimizing the risk of complications.

At Beaufort Memorial's Keyserling Cancer Center, the TrueBeam radiotherapy system, one of the most powerful and precise radiation therapy delivery systems in today's market, is now available.

TrueBeam allows doctors to treat a prostate tumor with the maximum dose by targeting it from more angles, while protecting surrounding body tissue with shields built into the machine that move to block the radiation beam.

It's a vast improvement from the linear accelerator that radiation oncologists used in the early 2000s that provided for only four or five angles of treatment.

Technicians are able also to make adjustments before every treatment based on the real-time position of the prostate and adjacent organs, which naturally shift inside the body.

Treating with tight margins and knowing where the target is located at any point in time has improved survival rates. And, with the technology now available locally, it's much more convenient for prostate cancer patients to receive the treatment they need to live cancer-free.

Board-certified radiation oncologist Dr. Jonathan Briggs is medical director of Beaufort Memorial's Department of Radiation Oncology at the hospital's Keyserling Cancer Center.

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