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Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - When Treating Cancer, the Most Convenient Treatments Are Not Always Better

When treating cancer, the most convenient treatments are not always better

By Edward M. Soffen, M.D.

We are living in a remarkable age in the battle against cancer. Just a few decades ago, cancer was considered a terminal illness. But every day, we are armed with new technology, research and expertise to help patients live longer and often eradicate the cancer completely. But with innovation and invention comes a caveat – sometimes, what seems quicker, less invasive or more “cutting edge” may not actually be the safest or most prudent choice for many patients. In other words, just because something is “new” does not mean it is necessarily better.

As a radiation oncologist, my goal is to help patients and cure their cancer. In regard to treating prostate cancer, for example ─ one of the most common cancers ─ my job is to deliver the appropriate dose of radiation needed to treat the cancer, protect the surrounding tissues and structures, and minimize patient side effects. The resources available today to accomplish this mission are varied.

For example, you may have read in the media about flashy new kinds of radiation treatment, such as the CyberKnife, a stereotactic radiation delivery system that delivers about quadruple the usual dose of radiation in fewer treatments in comparison to other types of radiation therapy. The marketing for this technology touts that the cancer patient can undergo “far fewer treatments than traditional radiation.” But what are the risks for the patient in doing so?

In fact, the CyberKnife’s minimal treatment protocol may come with a steep price. For example, while its advocates claim the therapy is appropriate for prostate cancer treatment as a safe, effective and more convenient alternative to traditional radiation treatment, many experts are concerned patients could overlook the significant risks for this treatment and focus solely on the shorter treatment protocol. What are these risks?

  • High-intensity radiation, even when precisely focused, can permanently damage the area around the prostate including the rectum, bladder and urethra and possibly lead to complications, including incontinence or impotence.
  • Because the use of very high doses of radiation over a short duration is relatively new, there have been only limited studies of the long-term effects on the body.
  • Prostate cancer is usually a slow-growing disease occurring in men over age 70. As a result, only about 50 percent of all patients need to undergo radiation therapy. However, patients may nonetheless choose to undergo CyberKnife therapy due to the appeal of the shorter treatment cycle, leading to over-treatment.

Keep in mind that modern medicine offers an arsenal of different options to defeat cancer. But there are risk factors with surgery, medication and radiation therapy. Your treatment option decisions should be made with great care, in partnership with a cancer specialist whose philosophy is in line with your own.

The Cancer Center at CentraState Medical Center, including its Prostate Cancer Program, is accredited by the American College of Surgeons (ACoS) Commission on Cancer (CoC) for quality excellence and is designated as a Community Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Program. The Cancer Center’s team is led by an outstanding group of board-certified physicians specializing in surgery, radiation oncology, and medical oncology. Trained at leading academic medical centers, these doctors combine their expertise to evaluate and treat all stages of the disease. They continually consult with patients one-on-one throughout the treatment process to provide a personalized and comprehensive care plan specifically developed for each patient. The Center’s advanced cancer treatment options give you the kinds of choices you’d find in the most respected medical centers in every major city – but closer to home. 

CentraState now also offers proton therapy for the treatment of cancer. ProCure Treatment Centers, Inc. along with CentraState Healthcare System and Princeton Radiation Oncology have brought the first and only proton therapy center to the New Jersey/New York region. Proton therapy allows eligible cancer patients to benefit from the most precise and advanced form of radiation therapy available today. Proton therapy is a highly targeted form of radiation using charged proton particles to attack tumors, usually those found in head and neck, brain, prostate, lung, gastrointestinal and pediatric cancers.

For more information about CentraState’s Cancer Center or to schedule an appointment, visit CentraStateCancerCenter.com or call (855) 411-CANCER.  

           Dr. Edward Soffen is a board-certified radiation oncologist and medical director of the Radiation Oncology Department at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold. He can be reached at Princeton Radiation Oncology by calling (732) 303-5290.