Proton therapy for prostate cancer has been available in SoCal since 1990. Here are the pros and cons of this treatment

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LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Proton therapy to treat prostate cancer has been available in Southern California for nearly 35 years. It’s less invasive and offers fewer side effects compared to conventional radiation therapy. However, many newly-diagnosed men are unaware this treatment option exists.

When Cornelius Albert of Baldwin Hills was diagnosed with prostate cancer 12 years ago, two urologists gave him the same grim warning..

“I was in imminent danger of death. And if I didn’t have surgery, which was the gold standard, which they repeatedly said, I could possibly die within three to five years. I was shocked!” Albert said.

As he was contemplating surgery, a friend of his told him about an alternative treatment.

Albert would soon learn about proton therapy. In 1990, Loma Linda University Medical Center became the first in the U.S. to build a hospital-based proton therapy center. But despite that, it’s often not the first treatment patients hear about.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Gary Yang with Loma Linda University Health said it’s likely because most men get diagnosed by a urologist and urology is a surgical specialty.

“They will present the treatment option from their expertise and surgery would be what they offer,” he said.

The most recent study with a 15-year follow up comparing the effectiveness of surgery versus proton therapy reveals a similar success rate.

“They find there’s no difference in terms of outcome. It all comes down to the quality of life, and how you want your prostate cancer to be managed with surgery or radiation,” Yang said.

Quality of life refers to potential side effect, such as bladder and bowel problems, and difficulty with sexual functioning. While the risks are relatively low with both surgery and conventional radiation, Yang says proton therapy can potentially lower the risk of side effects even more because the technology is more precise at targeting tumors.

Just like the name suggests, proton therapy uses protons, a type of subatomic particle. Unlike X-rays, it causes less damage to surrounding tissue.

“Proton beams can be designed to conform to the unique size and shape of the tumor and stop within the tumor precisely,” said Yang.

“I had no incontinence, no impotence, none of that,” said Albert.

Two of the biggest challenges remain a lack of definitive studies and the high price tag. Also, insurance coverage varies. Depending on that, costs can range from around $5,000 to $20,000.

“So it really depends on the competition. It comes down to the business model,” said Yang.

Yang said it’s really important for every patient to explore as many options as possible before making a decision. Albert drove from West Los Angeles to Loma Linda five days a week for nine weeks. Today, that treatment time has been cut in half. He’s grateful he had that option.

“I’ve been cancer free for 12 years,” Albert said.

Prostate specific antigen screening helped Albert detect his cancer. Most men should get their PSA tested every two to three years. However, your doctor may recommend more or less frequency based on your first test.

MORE: This combo therapy shows promise for stage 4 prostate cancer patients

Triple combination therapy has shown promise for stage 4 prostate cancer patients. But doctors also emphasize the critical importance of your mindset.

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