When former television weatherman Norm Grohmann was diagnosed with prostate cancer ten years ago, he was given a choice of treatment options. By choosing brachytherapy he became part of a pivotal BC Cancer Agency study that has helped establish the procedure as a new gold standard for the treatment of prostate cancer – the most frequently diagnosed cancer among men.
The procedure involves implanting tiny radioactive particles or “seeds” into a patient’s prostate and the tumour tissues around it. The result is a high dose of radiation delivered directly to affected areas with minimal effect on surrounding tissues. Within a year, virtually all of the radioactive material is depleted.
“Radical Prostatectomy has traditionally been the gold standard treatment for early-stage prostate cancer,” says radiation oncologist Dr. Mira Keyes, head of the BC Cancer Agency’s Prostate Brachytherapy Program. “So when you introduce a new type of treatment you really have to prove that it’s working as well or better than the treatment that’s already available.”
Today, based on a study of long-term outcomes for the first 1006 patients who received brachytherapy at the BC Cancer Agency – including Grohmann – the evidence clearly shows the procedure is effective, providing excellent long term disease control and a likely cure for 95 percent of patients with cancer that has not spread from the prostate.
“Our treatment results are outstanding, with acceptable side effects for patients. Based on our results, I can confidently say we are one of the leaders in the brachytherapy community worldwide,” says Keyes.
Prostate cancer statistics (2010 estimates)
- Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis for men
- This year 3,100 BC men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer (100 more than last year).
- About 570 men in BC will die of prostate cancer in 2010.
- BC men have the lowest mortality rate for prostate cancer in the country
With 13 radiation oncologists providing brachytherapy in four centres across the province, BC Cancer Agency’s brachytherapy program is now one of the largest in the world. And with growing recognition of its treatment success, the number of BC men with prostate cancer choosing the procedure is growing every year.
In recounting his experience with brachytherapy, Grohmann says the biopsy done for diagnosing his cancer was more uncomfortable than the procedure itself.
“I arrived at the hospital at ten in the morning, had the procedure and was having tea and a cookie by one o’clock. My wife and I went out for dinner that night and it’s been clear sailing for me ever since,” says Grohmann.
Dr. Mira Keyes is a radiation oncologist and head of BC Cancer Agency’s Prostate Brachytherapy Program. She is also a clinical associate professor of radiation oncology at UBC.