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Fox Chase Cancer Center "Tailors" Radiation Therapy to Help Reduce Erectile Dysfunction in Men Treated for Prostate Cancer

PHILADELPHIA (February 5, 2004) -- Impotence, or erectile dysfunction, is one of the most dreaded complications following surgery or radiation therapy for prostate cancer. In a new study at Fox Chase Cancer Center, radiation therapy is being "tailored" for some patients to determine if impotence can be avoided.

The study is for patients who chose a form of radiation therapy called IMRT. All of the patients in the study will receive the standard dose of radiation to the prostate, but for half of the men, the treatment will be specifically tailored to reduce the amount of radiation that is delivered to the erectile tissues surrounding the prostate.

"The erectile tissues lie very close to the prostate. There is evidence that delivering lower doses of radiation to the erectile tissues will lead to fewer incidences of erectile dysfunction," explain Eric Horwitz, MD, the Fox Chase physician leading the study. "Our first priority in treating someone with prostate cancer is to offer the most likely treatment that will cure the disease. Our preliminary data demonstrates that we can achieve a cure even after lowering the dose of radiation to the erectile tissues."

A recent Fox Chase study showed that the radiation delivered to erectile tissues can be reduced by as much as 60 percent without compromising treatment outcome. Other studies show that the best cure rates are achieved when high doses of radiation are delivered directly to the prostate.

"IMRT is the only technology that allows physicians to arrange the radiation beams in such a way that we can reduce the radiation to the erectile tissues while boosting the dose to the prostate," Horwitz said.

IMRT is the latest of a series of technologic advances designed to improve the precision of radiation therapy. IMRT allows for the very precise delivery of radiation by dividing each beam into 60-100 multiple segments. This allows physicians to maximize the dose to the tumor where it is thickest and minimize the radiation dose to the surrounding healthy tissue, enabling the radiation oncologist to administer high doses of radiation with extreme precision to the targeted prostate while sparing surrounding healthy organs.

All patients in this clinical study will receive the same standard dose of radiation delivered to the prostate using IMRT. Some patients, however, will be randomly selected to receive the specially tailored treatment plan to reduce the level of radiation delivered to erectile tissues.

"IMRT provides excellent control over the radiation dose we deliver," said Horwitz. "Many places are offering patient only partial treatment using IMRT, but it is critical that patients receive IMRT from the start until the end of treatment in order to realize the full potential of this treatment."

Horwitz suggests that patients seeking IMRT ask the following questions:

Q: How long have your physicians been using IMRT and how many patients have been treated?

Fox Chase and other comprehensive cancer centers, physicians have been using IMRT for almost 4 years. Fox Chase has treated more than 1300 patients with IMRT.

Q: What technologies are employed to ensure daily accuracy when treating prostate cancer?

Since the prostate moves inside your body, it is important that it be identified daily so that treatment can be adjusted to reflect the prostate's movement. At Fox Chase, this is accomplished with MRI planning, daily BAT ultrasound, and the CT-on-Rails.

Q: Is there a physicist dedicated to working on the IMRT treatment plans?

At Fox Chase, we have a staff of physicists who design treatment plans daily.


Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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