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'Men's night out' discusses new treatment for prostate cancer

September 23, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

HALFWAY - A new treatment for prostate cancer will be available soon at Washington County Hospital, two local doctors told about 25 men who attended an event sponsored by the American Cancer Society Thursday night.

Dr. Dan Cornell, director of radiation oncology at the John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown, said the new method has shown promise in other parts of the country over the last five years. It involves inserting 80 to 100 radioactive seeds inside an infected prostate.

Any tumor can be controlled with a sufficient dose of radiation, Cornell said. The problem with conventional radiation treatment is that the dose sometimes damages healthy parts of the body.

In the new procedure, the radioactive seeds are powerful enough to deliver lethal doses to cancerous cells while not causing damage elsewhere.

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"We have sort of smart bomb technology to go after prostate cancer," he said.

The procedure is not new. Cornell said doctors have been using the seeds for 15 to 20 years.

What is new is the method of distribution. An ultrasound guidance system allows specific placements, Cornell said.

"The idea is to get these things evenly spaced throughout the gland," he said. "In the old days, we used to do this freehand."

The men gathered at the Howard Johnson's for "Men's Night Out," many of them cancer survivors, also heard from Russell Liskey, 61, who helped form a prostate cancer awareness group in Hagerstown this week and is forming another group in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Liskey, who lives at The Woods in Berkeley County, W.Va., said he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 46.

A rectal exam during a routine checkup revealed something so small that Liskey's doctor almost didn't mention it, he said.

It turned out to be malignant.

Liskey said his urologist left on a three-week vacation the day after he informed him of the test results. He said he had no one to turn to.

Man to Man, a group organized by the American Cancer Society, is part support group, part education.

The cause of prostate cancer is unknown and it has no symptoms in its early stages.

Expensive blood screening can detect it, and doctors recommend the tests for middle-aged patients for whom a rectal exam reveals potential problems.

Because the disease normally advances slowly and treatments carry adverse side effects, some doctors believe older men should not be screened.

"I am still unsure whether screening actually saves lives," said Dr. Michael J. McCormack, a medical oncologist at the Marsh Cancer Center.

For men ages 50 to 65, though, annual rectal exams are essential for early detection, Cornell said.

"I don't consider a physical exam complete if there's not a rectal exam," he said. "People don't look forward to it, but it's an important exam."

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