For John Healy, the uncertainty about his future was almost as overwhelming as finding out he had prostate cancer.
When he was diagnosed in 2016, he was already coping with raising a teenage son following the loss of his wife to breast cancer.
After having his prostate removed, he had to undergo tests every three months to check that the disease had not returned.
“It was a really tough time, not knowing what the future holds,” said the 64-year-old from Melbourne.
“Six months after my surgery, a scan picked up that my cancer had returned in the prostate bed. I felt like I was back to square one.”
Wary he would require more intensive therapy, Mr Healy was grateful to be able to join a new study – the first of its kind – that aims to improve outcomes for prostate cancer patients with a combination of high-tech imaging and tracking techniques and targeted treatment.
Icon Group’s PINPOINT research has shown that by focusing radiation solely at the prostate bed – the area from where the gland was removed – quality of life is preserved for at least three years following treatment.
“I’m so thankful that I was able to receive this highly-targeted, non-invasive treatment through the PINPOINT study,” Mr Healy said.
“This treatment has helped me get my life back. I have enormous gratitude that I can say, five years later, that my cancer is in remission.”
Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer diagnosed in men, with 19,000 new cases each year in Australia.
Many patients have their prostate removed to improve their chances of the cancer not returning, but a third of them will relapse and face the prospect of aggressive treatment involving a combination of radiation therapy and hormonal therapy. Long-term side effects can include incontinence, scar tissue, and toxicity in the bladder and bowel.
Icon, which runs 30 cancer centres across Australia, hopes the interim results of its study, which it has recently released, have shown there are better options.
The final results of the study will be reported at 10 years post-treatment.
“This is the first trial to explore the toxicity of a more targeted approach and to help specialists make more informed decisions,” said Dr Patrick Bowden, Radiation Oncologist at Icon Cancer Centre and Principal Investigator on the PINPOINT trial.
The study used the latest cancer imaging technology to identify patients who would benefit most from treatment limited to the prostate bed.
They were then implanted with tiny electronic transponders to allow for real-time tracking of the prostate bed, ensuring accurate and focused radiation delivery that avoided nearby organs such as the bladder and the bowel.
“It is reassuring to know that with these new imaging and radiation techniques, we can now accurately identify patients with low risk of metastases, avoiding overtreatment and maintaining a good quality of life,” Dr Bowden said.
“We hope this research will improve access to safer radiation therapy for thousands of patients.”
Patients do not require private health insurance to receive radiation therapy treatments at Icon centres, with up to 80-90 percent of costs reimbursed by Medicare.
September is International Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and the campaign’s message to men in 2021 is the importance of regular health checks to ensure early detection of the disease.
“In the early stages, it may show no symptoms,” said Lisa Ferri, part of the newly-expanded Prostate Cancer Specialist Nursing Service at Perth’s Hollywood Private Hospital.
“Early detection is important for successful outcomes and it’s important to be aware of your risk factors which can include family history and age,” added Ms Ferri, who supports patients throughout their journey from diagnosis to treatment and recovery.
“We encourage all men to speak to their GP about prostate cancer and their risk.”