BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Doctors told Ronald Atwood in 2011 that he was at high risk for developing prostate cancer. After six years of careful monitoring, an MRI revealed the cancer developed and Atwood would require radiation treatment. He is just one of thousands of men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, but what sets him apart was how his cancer was treated.
"I was just happy. My friends they asked me, 'You didn't have any side effects?' I said, 'No,'" said Atwood.
Prostate cancer is often treated with radiation, requiring up to 45 rounds of the treatment. However, that comes with a risk of damaging nearby organs, such as the bladder or rectum. For years, protecting those organs required an uncomfortable and somewhat invasive step that came with a list of side effects.
"Traditionally, the best that we've been able to do is make sure the patient has a full bladder to pull it up and away from the prostate," explained radiation oncologist, Dr. Charles Wood. "We also insert a soft balloon into the rectum prior to each radiation treatment. What that does is push the majority of the rectum away from the prostate."
Wood also noted the balloon technique still left some of the rectum exposed to high doses of radiation, which could lead to other side effects, such as trouble going to the bathroom. Now, the doctors at Mary Bird Perkins Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center have a new option. It's a water-based gel, called Space OAR Hydrogel, that's injected just one time into an area of fatty tissue between the prostate and the rectum. The gel pushes at-risk organs away from the prostate and out of the radiation zone.
According to Wood, it's more effective at keeping healthy organs out of harm's way, easier on the patient, and the gel dissolves on its own after a few months. Wood calls it a game changer.
"During treatment is minimal side effects and after treatment, at the end of the day, the patient is happy," said Wood.
Atwood, who was the first patient at Mary Bird Perkins to receive the gel technique, agreed. "Made it really a lot easier," said Atwood.
September is also National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Doctors recommend men start getting checked out regularly around the age of 40, depending on family history.