Cancer Center Leads with New Procedure

Fox Chase Cancer Center Offers New Prostate Cancer Treatment With Fewer Side Effects; Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy
(Feb 8, 2002)

Reprinted from the Northeast Times, March 6, 2002

When Robert Uhrick was diagnosed with prostate cancer three months ago, of course he reacted with fear. "When you're hit with something that can kill you, it's distressing," he said. "You go through a little bit of hard times. You start to think differently about life."

Eight weeks later and with treatment behind him, Uhrick was singing a different tune. The 69-year-old Oxford Circle resident is already on the road to recovery, thanks to the Fox Chase Cancer Center. That's because Uhrick received a new, state-of-the-art form of radiation therapy called Intensity Modulation Radiation Therapy (IMRT).

IMRT uses highly sophisticated technology that allows doctors to administer strong doses of radiation directly to the prostate, sparing the surrounding organs. Fox Chase Cancer Center is the only facility in the Delaware Valley treating prostate cancer patients regularly with IMRT, and the staff is bursting with excitement over the new procedure.

"IMRT is really the state of the art in North America and in the world right now in radiation oncology," explained Dr. Eric Horwitz, a radiation oncologist at Fox Chase. "In Philadelphia, we are the only people that use all IMRT to treat prostate cancer." Horwitz said prostate cancer strikes about 140,000 men annually, and about 30,000 cases are terminal. Fox Chase Cancer Center treats about 400 patients annually.

"It's actually very treatable," Horwitz said. "It depends on how big the cancer is. A lot of men get diagnosed in the early stages. Clearly, the goal of our treatment is to cure it."

The prostate, located below the bladder and in front of the rectum, is about the size of a walnut. Although most men do not experience symptoms, it is usually picked up by a blood test that detects the prostate specific antigen called PSA.

"Most men will say, 'I didn't even know I had it,'" Horwitz pointed out. After the diagnosis, Horwitz said men are concerned about the severity of the cancer, their treatment options and the aftereffects. Prior to the IMRT, Fox Chase developed a procedure in 1989 that treated patients with a beam of radiation that conformed to the unique shape and size of a man's prostate. However, healthy organs surrounding the prostate, such as the rectum and bladder, were also effected.

That's not the case with IMRT.

"With IMRT, the beams are coming in all directions," Horwitz explained. "You're really missing most of the bladder and the rectum. By missing critical things, we can actually give a lot more radiation to the prostate.

"From a radiation oncology point of view, it's been a beautiful thing in that we can give more radiation, and the thing that we don't want to be treated, is getting less."

Fewer side effects result, and patients are happier. Uhrick only experienced a loss of appetite and some pressure when he urinated.

Horwitz added that men are apprehensive about the treatment, but as they go through it, most are amazed at the simplicity of it. "No one wants to have cancer and get radiation, but because most of the men actually feel OK . . . it ends up not being the terrible experience that it could be," Horwitz said.

The center began experimenting with IMRT two years ago and has been using it regularly since July. Treatment cycles span 37 to 39 days. Patients come in five days a week. Each treatment lasts about 10 minutes. So far, patient response has been positive. Uhrick can't say enough good things about it.

"I have to say, I've had an easy and enjoyable time in the program," he gushed. "For having prostate cancer, I had a wonderful time. I would definitely recommend this. I have to praise it up and down." Deep friendships often develop and a spirit of camaraderie is evident among the staff and the patients. Horwitz knows of patients who have formed their own support groups and often schedule their follow-up appointments on the same day.

Uhrick became very close to the staff at Fox Chase and credits them with helping him through his ordeal.

"I think we started to bond as the treatment progressed," he said. "We started telling jokes, and we got along so good. There was an attachment there in those eight weeks."

On Feb. 26, Uhrick's last day of treatment, the nurses and technicians celebrated by giving him a certificate of achievement. Uhrick was deeply touched by the kind gesture.

"I thought that it was wonderful," he said. "I'm going to frame it and keep that forever."