It’s quick. It’s painless. It’s covered by insurance. And it’s among the best-kept secrets in treating prostate cancer.
Meet the CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System, a $3 million machine that delivers stereotactic body radiation therapy. Developed at Stanford University, the machine moves around the patient to deliver about 200 high-dose beams of radiation from all angles to target tumors in areas like the prostate.
Radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Myers began offering the innovative, noninvasive treatment for prostate cancer three years ago at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. All 16 patients he’s treated so far have gone into remission with no recurrences.
“There isn’t a single one of my patients yet who’s failed,” said Myers, who participates in a multi-institutional national registry that tracks the procedure’s efficacy and side effects.
The CyberKnife requires only five treatments, one every other day, compared to 40 treatments over eight weeks using conventional radiation. Because there are fewer treatments, the cost is less.
• A gland of the male reproductive system, the prostate’s main purpose is to produce fluid for semen. The prostate is located in front of the rectum, just below the bladder, and wraps around the urethra.
• A young man’s prostate is about the size of a walnut and grows slowly with age, sometimes constricting the flow of urine through the urethra. An enlarged prostate can be the size of a tangerine.
• Prostate cancer is rare before age 40. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 66.
• Prostate cancer is most common in African-American men, who are twice as likely to die from it as white men.
Source: American Cancer Society
Prostate cancer by the numbers
2: Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer in American men, behind lung cancer.
14: Percentage of men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
99: The percentage five-year survival rate for prostate cancer.
4,430: The estimated number of men in Washington who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016.
26,120: The estimated number of men who will die from prostate cancer in 2016 nationwide.
180,900: The estimated number of new prostate cancer cases in the United States in 2016.
2.85 million: The estimated number of men living with prostate cancer in the United States.
Source: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute
The CyberKnife is painless as an X-ray, aside from when the doctor must insert gold flecks into the prostate a week or two in advance to serve as markers for the radiation beams, which can’t “see” soft tissue. (The gold-insertion procedure uses anesthetic.)
Although the technology is fairly new, the results are promising.
Stereotactic body radiation therapy has a higher cure rate of prostate cancer than traditional approaches such as surgery or conventional radiation, according to a recent five-year study by researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. The five-year cure rate for treatments such as surgery or radiation range from 80 to 90 percent, whereas the stereotactic body radiation therapy treatment for prostate cancer found a 98.6 percent cure rate, showed the findings, published in the European Journal of Cancer.
95% success rate
Previous studies from Stanford University and the University of California in Los Angeles showed success rates of 95 percent for low-risk and 84 percent for intermediate-risk prostate cancer.
A study from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York of 300 patients reported no serious acute side effects and a 2 percent rate of urinary side effects. Ten percent of patients experienced less severe side effects.
Every three months, Myers will check in with his patients to ask about their side effects and have them take a prostate-specific antigen blood test to ensure their levels aren’t rising. PSA is a substance made by the prostate and typically exists at low levels in a man’s blood. Elevated PSA levels can indicate cancer but can also be attributed to other factors, such as having a large prostate, a long bicycle ride or recent intercourse.
Since the hospital purchased the CyberKnife in 2008, the machine has been used to treat stage one lung cancer, brain tumors, liver cancer, trigeminal neurological pain and acoustic neuroma, among other things.
However, few people know about stereotactic body radiation therapy as a treatment option for prostate cancer, said Myers, who is hoping to raise awareness in the community. For starters, the machines aren’t commonplace — PeaceHealth’s Vancouver facility is the only hospital in the area that has a CyberKnife. To find another, you’d have to go to Seattle, Spokane or Reno, Nev., Myers said.
Generally, a urologist will diagnose prostate cancer with a biopsy, and most patients will have their prostates removed. Myers hopes that with more people becoming informed of the CyberKnife as an option that its use will become more widespread.
Vancouver resident Lloyd North, 85, received CyberKnife treatment in 2014 for prostate cancer after his family doctor referred him to Myers. The experience, complete with heated blankets and music of his choice (barbershop choirs), was “very pleasant,” North said Wednesday.
“It was so comfortable, I wanted to stay with those warm blankets,” he said. “You couldn’t beat it.”
Since then he hasn’t had any cancer recurrences, said North, adding that he’s “very happy with the results.”
Anyone interested in the CyberKnife treatment should call PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center’s Radiation Oncology and CyberKnife Center at 360-514-1901.