NEW ORLEANS -- Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in men, taking the lives of 30,000 men in the U.S. each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Caught early, before it spreads, it is very curable.
Now new technology to treat prostate cancer is being tested right here in New Orleans.
When Stanley Dubroca, a 62-year-old who lives in Metairie, was only in his 50s, he got some unwelcome news. He remembers the day when he was told he had prostate cancer and what went through his mind.
"Kind of a numbness, but as I was told, they were also telling me the options that were available. So I was somewhat reassured at the same time," said Dubroca.
He had external beam radiation and fortunately had minimal side effects from the treatment. Over time, he had his PSA test, that blood test to see if there were signs of the cancer coming back.
For a while it was OK, but then a change.
"Recently I had it checked and it was rising a lot more," said Dubroca.
Dubroca did not want to be treated with hormone shots because of the adverse side effects. That's when he was referred to Dr. Benjamin Lee, a urologist and oncologist at Tulane. Lee explained that once a man has radiation, some of the healthy tissue in the area is affected and that limits a man's treatment options the second time around.
"Surgery for prostate cancer after radiation, is tremendously, has tremendous side effects after radiation has been delivered to the patient, because the tissues don't heal as well. There are higher risks of side effects, of incontinence, of erectile dysfunction, of injury to the rectum after radiation," Lee said.
But Dubroca also qualified for a new option for treatment.
Lee is the principal investigator at Tulane for brand new technology being tested in New Orleans and at 14 other sites in the country. It's for men whose prostate cancer has come back and who had external beam radiation the first time around.
Here's how it works. The patient goes into the O.R. and is under anesthesia. The doctors get a perfect 3D map of the man's prostate gland using ultrasound, giving them a guide map like a GPS tracking system. Then a special probe is placed inside the rectal body cavity, and HIFU, short for High Intensity Focused Ultrasound, is delivered to small pinpoint sections of the prostate gland.
The HIFU keeps delivering the ultrasound energy, stacking each targeted area next to one another. That goes on until the entire prostate gland is treated.
The procedure takes about one and a half to three hours, depending on the size of each man's prostate gland. Patients have no pain. The prostate gland forms scars, contracts and loses its function of making fluid. The goal is for the cancer to never come back but without the problems and risks of removing it through surgery.
"One can effectively treat and kill all the cancer cells without any scars or incisions on the outside (of the body). There are no cuts made on the abdomen at all. A probe is placed and the energy is directed very similarly to how shock wave lithotripsy has changed how kidney stone surgery is now being performed," Lee said.
Dubroca had his surgery a month ago and was able to go home that same day.
"Everything has been normal. I was actually surprised that there were no side effects," Dubroca said.
"When the cancer comes back, there are very few options and this trial is being offered to try and help determine if this treatment is effective for them. To be able to offer these patients now an option to effectively cure them of their prostate cancer is exciting and with so little side effects," Lee said.
Dubroca was the very first patient to try this new technology at the Tulane site of this clinical trial.
"I'm extremely happy. This is a great opportunity. I was very lucky to kind of walk into it. I'm happy to be part of the clinical study to contribute whatever I can," Dubroca said.
If you want to see if you qualify for the prostate cancer clinical trial call Tulane at 504-988-2536. You have to have had prostate cancer that was treated the first time with external beam radiation, but is now coming back.
There is no cost for men who qualify for the study.