Size no longer an issue for prostate cancer treatment



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Posted on October 24, 2009 at 3:45 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

Video: Size no longer matters for prostate cancer treatment

It's one of the most common kinds of cancer - one in six men will hear "you have prostate cancer" in their lifetime.

Doctors say it can be a very treatable disease if caught early. Until now, size was an issue for some of the most high-tech treatments, but not anymore.

"I was ready to go to the Chicago Bears that year, but they thought I needed to grow a little bit," said Gene Hagerman, prostate cancer patient.

Ever since college, Hagerman has been a big guy.

"Obese they call us, but I think of us as large people," said Hagerman.

When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, his size became an issue. At nearly 400 pounds with 63-inch hips, proton therapy wasn't an option.

"They were screening people based on size of hips. Obviously, my height and weight eliminated me," Hagerman said.

Compared to radiation, proton therapy is more precise and has fewer side effects, but there were limits on how far the beam would penetrate into the body - until now.

In the past, the beam scattered the protons which limited how far they could travel. Now doctors can direct a sharper proton beam into the body. It penetrates deeper with better accuracy.

"With the uniform scanning we can pretty much treat all the prostate patients that come," said Dr. Zuofeng Li, Physics Director at the University of Florida, Proton Therapy Institute.

After eight weeks, Hagerman's tumor shrank in half.

"When I left, my PSA level dropped from 6.8 to 3.8," said Hagerman.

He's staying active and he's grateful his treatment didn't discriminate.

"It's really important for people who are my size, men who need this treatment, to have it available to them," said Hagerman.

Uniform scanning is also an option for patients with large tumors that are close to vital organs.

Along with prostate cancer, doctors hope to soon use the approach for brain, spine, head and neck tumors.