The co-authors of Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers, blog alternate posts weekly. We invite you to post your comments.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Selecting Prostate Cancer Treatment


"You mean you have never heard of diffusion-weighted imaging” Exclaimed a recently-diagnosed prostate cancer patient to his doctor.  How could his doctor be unacquainted with this important aspect of modern prostate imaging? It’s shocking when a patient realizes he possesses more medical information than the “expert.” 

No One Can Be an Expert in Everything
Actually, in this modern era, this situation is being encountered more and more frequently. It’s not so surprising when considering the explosive growth rate of new medical information. It’s humanly impossible for anyone to stay abreast of every new medical development.  For example, even though urologists “specialize” in diseases of the urinary system, their area of responsibility demands expertise in a wide variety of unrelated but important areas such as urinary infections, prostate enlargement, prostate infections, sexual dysfunction and kidney stones. They also have to be expert at the surgical treatment of such problems as congenital defects, bladder cancer, testicular cancer and kidney cancer… just to name a few.

Prostate Cancer by Itself is Quite Complex
Prostate cancer alone is intricate enough to keep a specialist occupied full time. For example, simply staging prostate cancer is complicated. Prostate cancer staging uses a multimodality profiling system that estimates the likelihood of microscopic metastases outside the prostate using PSA, Gleason grade, and a percentage of cancer-containing biopsy cores.  Now, new imaging techniques are providing further information about the size and location of the cancer within the prostate gland. And even more recently molecular profiling has become commercially available.  Staging prostate cancer properly has become a continually developing art form.

Seeking Advice—Delivered from a Level Playing Field
Equally important is the need to seek out unbiased treatment advice. Unfortunately, the process of rendering advice about treatment options is usually very slanted. Urologists (who are surgeons) usually recommend surgery.  Radiation therapists usually recommend radiation. This is not to imply that these physicians have less than the best intentions.  Over time they just become convinced that what they do is the best option for their patients who are consulting them.

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
The number of treatments available for men with newly-diagnosed disease is rapidly expanding.  For example, what was previously known simply as “radiation” now includes IMRT, Proton therapy, Cyberknife, two types of Brachytherapy as well as various combinations of these different radiation modalities.  Hormone therapy options have now expanded beyond traditional Casodex and Lupron to include Zytiga and Xtandi. The management of the potential side effects of hormone therapy requires special training in diet physical fitness, bone integrity and sexual health to limit the risk of lingering damage after treatment is completed. These days, relapsed or advanced prostate cancer requires physicians who are conversant in genetic typing, modern PET scans, immunotherapy and injectable radiation.

Every Journey Begins with a Single Step
So newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients are faced with daunting situation. Clearly there is no simple answer to this tangle of complicated issues. However, the newly diagnosed cancer patient is far from helpless. He has two overriding responsibilities. First, he must learn as many facts as possible by getting thoroughly educated about the different treatments for his specific type of prostate cancer. Second, he must use discernment in the selection of which physicians to consult.

There is Time to Learn
With prostate cancer there is rarely a need to rush into making a treatment decision because it is usually slow growing.  There is plenty of time for the shock of diagnosis to wear off, giving you enough time to get educated about the scientific facts.  Published studies comparing outcomes are available. The PCRI in particular publishes articles that translate scientific information into a patient-friendly format.  Ultimately, all claims about treatment should be supported by references published in the scientific literature.  Selecting treatment for prostate cancer is a high stakes proposition, potentially risking sexual function, urinary function, even life itself.  I want to encourage patients to take a leadership role in the treatment-selection process.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great blog entry! Thanks for summing up the situation, and empowering patients. Hope to see you at the AUA. Karen Barrie