Published on July 09, 2018

Treating prostate cancer in less time

Many men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer choose radiation to treat their disease. While radiation therapy can work well (because it destroys cancer cells), it typically takes two months to complete. At St. Mary Medical Center, however, many men can opt for a type of radiation that shortens their course of therapy considerably—by up to three or four weeks.

It’s called hypofractionated radiation therapy for prostate cancer. The term hypofractionation simply means giving fewer overall treatments at a higher dose per day, explains Todd W. Flannery, MD, a radiation oncologist at St. Mary.

The main benefit is convenience. Men can potentially finish their treatments in four to five weeks instead of the usual eight to nine weeks. That may mean less disruption to their daily lives and fewer missed days of work.

“I think the real potential benefit of this treatment is that it allows you to maintain a sense of normalcy when you’re dealing with cancer,” Dr. Flannery says.

Precision technology

Hypofractionated radiation therapy has been around for a while—doctors have offered it to men in research studies for several cancers, including prostate and lung cancers. But many clinics still don’t provide hypofractionated therapy. At St. Mary, treatment teams have experience using the technique. That’s partly because St. Mary has state-of-the-art technology that allows doctors to deliver higher radiation doses more safely.

Here’s a basic look at how the therapy works for prostate cancer:

Using live 3-D images of the prostate, treatment teams are able to make very small adjustments to a patient’s position on the radiation treatment table. These corrections are based on very slight—just a few millimeters—but important shifts in the location of the prostate that normally occur from day to day.

This ability to hone in on the prostate, along with other technology that shapes how the radiation is delivered to the prostate, allows doctors to more precisely focus cancer-killing energy away from the nearby bladder and rectum.

“The image guidance part of this has really transformed our field in the last 10 years,” Dr. Flannery says. “It improves the precision because we are able to adjust the patient in any direction to line up the prostate perfectly on a daily basis.”

As a result, cancer doctors have become more comfortable with giving higher radiation doses per day.

Does it work as well as standard radiation?

According to Dr. Flannery, studies done in Europe and Canada found that the cure rates for prostate cancer are similar whether radiation is given in fewer, higher doses or in the usual way.

Men who are interested in a shorter course of treatment should discuss the potential pros and cons with their doctors, Dr. Flannery says.

Hypofractionation can be an option for most men who are candidates for standard radiation therapy, including men with localized or metastatic disease (where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body).

“We’re proud to offer hypofractionation at St. Mary as an option for treating prostate cancer,” Dr. Flannery says. “We provide the same state-of-the-art technology as our colleagues at academic centers.”

Radiation Specialists

The radiation oncologists at St. Mary are highly trained in using radiation to treat cancer. To learn more, go to stmaryhealthcare.org/radiationtherapy.