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Targeted Radiation May Help Men Avoid Impotence

Majority of Men Report Being Sexually Active After Proton Therapy for Prostate Cancer
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 5, 2010 -- A highly targeted form of radiation therapy may help younger men to avoid becoming impotent after treatment for prostate cancer, a preliminary study of nearly 100 men aged 55 and younger suggests.

Six months after undergoing proton therapy, 90% of participants who had been sexually active before treatment remained sexually active. 

By 12 and 18 months after the treatment, 95%, and 94% of treated men were sexually active, reports Bradford Hoppe, MD, of the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville, and colleagues.

A year-and-a-half after treatment, proton therapy was also associated with an extremely low rate of recurrence and a low risk of side effects, the researchers say.

Still unknown, however, is whether these benefits justify the much higher price tag of proton therapy, compared with other treatments for prostate cancer, says Harvard Medical School's Anthony Zietman, MD, chairman of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO). He was not involved with the study.

The findings were presented at ASTRO's annual meeting.

No Agreement on Optimal Management of Young Men with Prostate Cancer

Controversy exists over the optimal management of young men with prostate cancer due to concerns about late recurrences and side effects such as impotence, Hoppe says.

Several options have been proven effective for men whose tumor is still confined to the prostate. The most common are surgery to remove the prostate; seed implant therapy, or brachytherapy, in which surgeons implant tiny radioactive seeds into the prostate gland; and intensity modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT, in which multiple beams are focused at the prostate from many directions.

Proton beam therapy is a form of radiation treatment that uses protons rather than conventional photon X-rays to treat certain types of cancer and other diseases.

The beauty of the treatment, researchers say, is that radiation can be targeted to the site of the tumor.

Studies suggest that proton therapy is less likely to expose normal, healthy tissue and nearby organs to radiation than IMRT, Hoppe says.

Proton Therapy's Effectiveness About What Expected

The new study involved 98 men aged 55 and younger with prostate cancer. All received proton therapy; 14 also were given androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) to lower levels of male hormones that can fuel prostate tumors.

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