Proton Therapy Helps Protect Sexual Health after Prostate Cancer Treatment
Estimates from the American Cancer Society state that nearly 250,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer per year. Men who follow a low-fat diet can reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer, but many other factors can lead to the disease. Multiple treatment options are effective in treating cancer.
Some have a high risk of side effects, including the possibility of affecting a patient’s bladder control and sexual function after treatment is over. Proton therapy is an alternative cancer treatment known for having fewer of these undesirable side effects.
Screening and Early Treatment
Prostate cancer has relatively low mortality rates. In fact, the 5-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent for local and regional cancers. Rectal exams and PSA tests at annual check-ups, followed by CT scans are the most common methods of detecting prostate cancer in its early stages.
Men may be reluctant to get tested for prostate cancer, but early detection can save lives. The 5-year survival rate drops to 31 percent once cancer spreads outside of the prostate region. Guys who are concerned that going for prostate cancer screening is a sign of weakness should know that the earlier they are treated, the more likely they are to have a normal sex life after treatment.
Traditional Treatment Options
Traditional radiation therapy with x-rays aims to destroy cancerous cells in the prostate and, if the cancer has spread, in surrounding tissues. This therapy involves high-dose radiation that can damage non-cancerous tissues near to the prostate, including the man’s reproductive organs. Fatigue and impotence are likely side effects of traditional radiation therapy.
Surgical removal of the prostate, or prostatectomy, can be effective but carries the risk of nerve damage in local areas. Hormone replacement therapy is more common for cancer that has spread. The purpose is to inhibit testosterone from causing the cancer to grow quickly, but it can lead to impotence, enlarged breasts and hot flashes. Men who get treated for prostate cancer in later stages are more likely to lose their sexual desire after treatment.
Proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy, but it takes advantage of tiny particles called protons instead of x-rays. Protons are better able than x-rays to target the cancerous tissues without as much damage to healthy surrounding tissue.
Because “proton therapy” requires an expensive cyclotron, or particle accelerator, only nine current proton therapy locations exist in the nation. At IU Health Proton Therapy Center, treatment for prostate cancer is typically a nine-week process. Men are treated each day from Monday through Friday. During a session, men are immobilized so that the proton beam can be targeted to the tumor as precisely as possible. Side effects may be similar to those of radiation therapy, but if present are usually milder. Men who undergo proton therapy have a better chance of returning to a normal sex life after treatment because sexual organs are not affected by the proton beam.
Prostate cancer is among the most treatable cancers as long as it is treated relatively early. Older men and men with risk factors should get regular screening so that they can begin treatment as soon as possible if necessary. Traditional therapies are often effective, but they can lead to impotence or sexual dysfunction. Proton therapy may be worth considering for reducing side effects.
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