Only Active Surveillance Program in Midwest attracts increasing patient interest

4/16/2010 - While thousands of men in Illinois are treated for prostate cancer each year, a select number of men in the area are managing the disease in a much different way.  Under the direction of NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore), an increasing number of patients are choosing to live with cancer, rather than undergo traditional treatment>. 

NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Active Surveillance Program is for men older than age 60 with early stage, low grade prostate cancer.  The program is the only one of its kind in the Midwest, and is also one of the few in the country that is Institutional Review Board (IRB) - approved.  The program is currently open to new patients.  The ultimate goal of this trial is to identify those men who should undergo immediate treatment for their prostate cancer while sparing other men unnecessary treatment and side effects.

The men who enroll in Active Surveillance are not treated immediately, but are followed closely to determine if – or when – treatment is necessary.   In this active surveillance trial, patients undergo regular examinations and PSA blood tests, in addition to using new molecular biomarkers, including PCA3.  Men also undergo annual biopsies using state of the art color–Doppler 3D ultrasonography equipment.

The emotional benefits of Active Surveillance are just as vital as the physical benefits.  “Currently, the methods used to treat prostate cancer jeopardize both a man’s urinary function and sexual health and may impact his marital relationship,” according to Dr. Charles Brendler, Vice Chairman of Surgery for Research and Development and Co-Director of the NorthShore University HealthSystem Comprehensive Prostate Cancer Center. “It’s our job at the Comprehensive Prostate Cancer Center to deal with these issues and every other aspect of the disease. Active Surveillance provides men with an alternative, quality of life preserving strategy.”

Although prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American men, most prostate cancers grow slowly.  Recent studies suggest that 35-55 percent of men with prostate cancer are over treated, with side effects potentially affecting both urinary and sexual function. However, the reality is that, for many men, treatment is necessary to prevent deaths from prostate cancer.  And, with improved, minimally invasive surgical techniques, such as the innovative robotic da Vinci “S” Surgical System™ used by NorthShore, the risks of side effects from surgery have significantly decreased.

But for those whose diagnoses meet the stringent requirements of Active Surveillance, men are enjoying life as if they were cancer-free.

“I really don’t think of myself as having cancer.  I’m not waking up every day with side effects from surgery.  I know there may come a time when I need to have surgery or radiation, but, for now, I’m living a normal, healthy life,” says Stephen Benson of Buffalo Grove.

As part of the team approach, the Comprehensive Prostate Cancer Center offers prostate cancer patients and their families access to a urologist, radiation oncologist, and a medical oncologist.  Patients receive individualized treatment while all their physicians work together to coordinate their care.  The thought is that there is no single “one-size-fits-all” approach to treating prostate cancer, says Dr. Brendler.

Beyond Active Surveillance, the expert clinicians and researchers at NorthShore are focusing on developing better biomarkers to predict prognosis, the impact of obesity and other metabolic disorders on prostate cancer risk and progression, and the development of new therapies for men with advanced prostate cancer. 

One recent example is the work of Dr. William K. Johnston III, MD, Director of Laparoscopic and Minimally Invasive Urology.  Dr. Johnston is developing fluorescent dyes that attach specifically to prostate cells and appear bright green. During surgery these glowing cells can be more easily distinguished from the surrounding nerve cells responsible for erection, thereby improving both cancer cure and preservation of sexual function.

While NorthShore clinicians and researchers continue to uncover new ways to detect, treat and perhaps even prevent prostate cancer, the patients of the Active Surveillance are its biggest advocates.  “In the past year, I’ve had four different people that were diagnosed with the same thing. They all have their ‘issues’ because of surgery,” explains Benson.  “I just wished they had known about the group beforehand, like I did.  I feel bad for them.  It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made, for me.”

For more information about the Prostate Cancer Active Surveillance Program, visit the web page or call 847.657.5730.

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