Michigan Prostate Cancer Patient: Find Out if Proton Therapy is Right for You

A Family Friend Told Him About Proton Therapy and He's Glad He Called the McLaren Proton Therapy Center

Author: Jasmine Brown

Richard Finishes Proton Therapy Treatments

“If somebody came to me as I did to my friend who went through all of this [proton therapy treatments], I would definitely recommend that if it’s [proton therapy] an option you can do – I would say proton therapy is very good.”

After a diagnosis of prostate cancer, many men begin researching and looking for the best option to continue their quality of life. Many prostate cancer patients at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center, part of the Karmanos Cancer Network, are learning about proton therapy from men who have gone through the treatments in the past. This is exactly how Richard Thomas of Lapeer began looking into proton therapy when he received his diagnosis.

“I found out that one of my wife’s good friend’s husband had prostate cancer. He had done a lot of research and found out about proton therapy,” explained Thomas. “It was very successful. I spoke to him about it – he said, ‘yea, it was a piece of cake. If it’s an option for you, I certainly recommend that you look into it.’”

At the time that Thomas’ friend received proton therapy to treat his prostate cancer, there were no centers in Michigan. He traveled to a proton therapy center in Illinois. Fast forward about 3 or 4 years – the option of proton therapy is available closer to home.

“I started checking around here and found the treatment was available in Michigan,” said Thomas. “I called and inquired and ended up having an appointment with Dr. Gayar.”

Proton therapy is a radiation therapy treatment that uses protons instead of X-rays. With traditional radiation therapy, there is an exit dose – the X-rays (also known as photons) are delivered to the tumor and continue their path through the body. This causes unnecessary radiation exposure to body organs.

With proton therapy, there is no exit dose. The radiation stops at the boundary of the tumor, which means proton therapy experts can spare normal tissue unnecessary radiation. In turn, patients experience minimal side effects and a better quality of life during and after treatment.

“Dr. Gayar was very helpful in explaining to my wife and I exactly how it works, what it is, and what’s the difference between the proton therapy and the photon therapy,” said Thomas. “He was very helpful in explaining everything.”

Thomas was eligible for a randomized clinical trial, which was supported by the National Institute of Health and made available through Karmanos Cancer Institute, to evaluate comparative effectiveness and quality of life of proton therapy and different dose regimens.

“Clinical trials put us on the edge of cancer research, allowing us to find better, innovative treatment regimens and doses for patients receiving proton therapy,” said Hesham Gayar, MD, medical director of the McLaren Proton Therapy Center.

“I thought, well, if it helps down the road it can show in the long term that there is minimal to any side effects,” said Thomas. “I wanted it [proton therapy] because I felt that it was going to be the best treatment. Everything I’ve read about proton therapy seems to point out that the side effects are less – there’s less chance of detrimental side effects.”

Thomas had been monitoring his PSA levels with his primary care physician for about three years. By having annual screenings, he understood his prostate health. He and his doctor took note of the changes: one year his PSA level dropped, the next year it went up, and the next year it increased again. Though he knew of his PSA level, he says he does not recall experiencing symptoms or signs of prostate cancer. When he visited a urologist, he learned that he had a slightly enlarged prostate, but he says monitoring his PSA levels was really the reason for catching the cancer.

“It wasn’t enlarged enough that it was causing me any real problems other than overnight frequency, couple times a night, which was not a huge deal,” said Thomas. “That was basically the only symptom. It was strictly the PSA numbers during my annual physical that showed something was going on and that’s what necessitated the biopsy. Quite honestly, had it not been for those numbers showing, no, I would not have had any obvious symptoms.”

This can be true for most men. In the early stages of prostate cancer, there may not be symptoms that indicate cancer. A common symptom of prostate cancer is trouble with urination, but that does not always mean a man has prostate cancer.

“It is strongly advised that every man approaching 50 years old should begin speaking with their primary care provider about their prostate,” said Dr. Gayar. “Especially African American men, who are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. African American men should begin annual screenings sooner than 50 years of age. The earlier we can catch prostate cancer, the better the cure rate.

“This is also true if men are noticing an increase in the number of times they are needing to use the restroom, or are experiencing issues with urination – no matter what age. Get an appointment with your doctor to figure out why you may be having these issues and to come up with a plan to improve your prostate health.”

With Thomas’ timely actions, he was able to treat his prostate cancer before it developed further. He had 44 proton therapy treatments over a course of eight weeks. Thomas says his symptoms during treatment were minimum.

“The biggest thing is, you get a couple little tan spots on your side, but aside from that you don’t know anything happened,” said Thomas. “The treatment that I had was a pretty simple thing to go through to get the cancer taken care of. No real discomfort or anything like that all.”

Thomas has had follow-up appointments since he finished his proton therapy treatments in July of 2020, He says everything is going well.

“If somebody came to me as I did to my friend who went through all of this [proton therapy treatments], I would definitely recommend that if it’s [proton therapy] an option you can do – I would say proton therapy is very good,” said Thomas. “I was glad I made the decision to go with the radiation, specifically the proton.”

Find out if proton therapy is a treatment option for your cancer by visiting mclaren.org/proton_forme, or call (855) MY-PROTON.