Today, cancer of the prostate is considered highly treatable. The effects of prostate cancer treatment can however by considerable for some patients — particularly for those who have undergone invasive procedures such as radiotherapy or the radical removal of the prostate. Therefore, new medical treatment methods focus primarily on reducing the undesirable side effects of prostate cancer therapy and aim to help minimize impotence and incontinence, which commonly occur in invasive procedures. One such method is TULSA, a new treatment that uses ultrasound to treat the prostate.
Thanks to a breakthrough treatment, Don Maybee’s prostate cancer is in complete remission, and with no side effects.
“This will really change the way men deal with prostate cancer,” said Maybee, 70, who was diagnosed in the fall of 2013 with the disease. “It’s so much better than any alternative as far as I am concerned.”
The treatment uses an ultrasound applicator that delivers precisely targeted heat to kill cancer cells, avoiding damage to surrounding tissue and long-term issues associated with traditional treatments, such as erectile dysfunction and urinary problems.
According to the American Cancer Society, about one man in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, with the risk being the highest after age 60. It’s is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, behind only lung cancer.
Maybee’s father died 30 years ago from prostate cancer that metastasized into bone cancer. He was told by his doctor he would not die from the disease, as long as he took action.
In most cases, that action is surgery or radiation. The doctor suggested he return in three months to make a decision on treatment.
“I wasn’t worried because I knew it was slow-growing and I am a strong Christian, and I prayed about it to the Lord and believed he would take me through it,” said Maybee.
In January, his wife, Jill, learned from a news broadcast that Beaumont Health was doing an experimental procedure on prostate cancer patients and was looking for candidates to participate in a study.
The procedure uses a device similar in size to a Bic pen and guided by MRI to locate cancer cells and kill them, said Dr. James Relle, Beaumont Health urologist and principal investigator in the prostate cancer study.
At a temperature of about 134 degrees Fahrenheit, or 57 degrees Celsius, the abnormal cells are destroyed with no damage to surrounding healthy tissue, cells or organs. Such treatment reduces the long-term complications of traditional prostate cancer treatment.
“Traditional treatments for prostate are invasive, removing the gland by incision,” said Relle. “The alternative to the traditional surgery is radiation, which has similar complications and can lead to unwanted side effects and injures adjacent tissue.”
The device used in the study, TULSA-PRO, was developed over the course of several years by Profound, a Toronto company.
Maybee agreed to the treatment, placing his trust in technology and the doctors who were using the highly advanced magnetic resonance imaging to guide the device.
James Relle, M.D. (seated), Beaumont Health urologist and principal investigator, with radiologist and sub-investigator, Kiran Nandalur, M.D. Relle is using a new tool that kills prostate cancer cells with heat, guided by MRI.Courtesy of Beaumont Health
“This sounded like it had good promise, and it did,” said Maybee, who was one of the first patients to participate in the medical study in March 2014. “It was done in one day, and I got up and left and went home.”
Six months after he had the procedure done, his prostate specimen antigen level dropped from 7.2 to less than 1, showing he was cancer free. He said he has had no negative side effects and only minor issues the first four or five weeks post-surgery, but none that caused any lasting problems. He will continue to receive periodic check-ups until he reaches the five-year mark.
Relle said the study is now in the third phase. Beaumont Urology Research is seeking 10 more patients for the study.
“It has pretty profound implications in management of prostate, it can potentially replace or greatly reduce need for more invasive treatments,” said Relle, who adds that not all patients are eligible for the treatment.
The study presents exciting possibilities beyond treatment of prostate cancer.M
“This delivery system is specifically for prostate, but the concept can be used for other treatments,” said Relle. “The heat technology and feedback and ability to read temp in real time is adaptable to other tumors, but you’d need a new delivery system… This definitely could be a breakthrough for other cancers.”
Beaumont Health has about 400 clinical trials open at any time, with approximately half of those focused on cancer.
“Nothing makes us happier than a positive outcome, but that will take a lot of patients,” said Dr. Richard Kennedy, vice-president for research and director of Beaumont Research Institute as well as the associate dean for research for Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. “We are very, very happy this was a positive experience for him. Hopefully it will be that way for all. Prostate cancer is something we worry about a lot.”
He is thankful to Maybee and all patients who take a risk for something that may benefit themselves or future patients.
“Sometimes we think (medical advancement) doesn’t move fast enough, but the FDA is protecting the public,” Kennedy said. “Evidence has to support any new drug or device.”
He then quotes Albert Einstein, “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research,” and adds, “We really appreciate the patients who enroll in these studies.”