PROSTATE cancer patient Bob McGregor is living proof that a new treatment regime for the disease is as good as gold.
The 67-year-old from Hinton, diagnosed with the disease two years ago, had granules of the precious metal injected into his prostate to help better target the radiation treatment.
And a Hunter research team has now proven that the golden approach to radiation works – by reducing damaging side effects.
Professor Jim Denham and his team of specialists at the Calvary Mater Hospital and University of Newcastle have had the results of their study published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology.
Their work is one example of the world-first prostate cancer research coming from internationally acclaimed researchers in the Hunter.
In the two-year study the research team looked at 282 Hunter patients treated for prostate cancer and compared those treated using gold with other patients.
In the ‘‘golden’’ test group cylindrical gold granules about two millimetres long were injected into the prostate at three different locations.
The gold helps therapists to triangulate the position of the prostate under an MRI (magnetic-resonance imaging) scan and point the radiation at the exact spot.
Gold is used because most metals cannot go through an MRI – the super strong magnets involved in the scanning process would rip them out of the body.
Gold is non-magnetic yet still shows up in a scan.
The study found those men given the injection of gold before radiation had fewer side effects on surrounding tissue.
The prostate naturally moves inside the body and if radiation is not aimed precisely it can damage nearby organs. That includes the rectum, where prostate cancer treatment can lead to side effects such as pain, urgency and diarrhoea.
The study results are thought to be particularly good given those men given the gold actually had more advanced cancer and higher doses of radiation than the non-gold group.
Co-author of the study, Professor Denham said the team was not the first to use gold in prostate treatment but it was the first to prove that the use of gold reduced side effects.
Other specialists in the study included urologist Dr Martin White and radiation therapist Jackie Patterson.
The team also showed that the gold injections did not alter urinary symptoms.
‘‘To me it’s one of the best things that’s happened in my medical practice. It’s rare to see something that works so dramatically,’’ Professor Denham said.
‘‘We didn’t realise it was going to produce such a massive reduction in side effects.’’
The finding is expected to have major ramifications for treatment guidelines for the disease.
‘‘It’s a very solid step forward. It enables new technology to be used properly,’’ Professor Denham said. ‘‘It’s well on the way to becoming the norm.’’
Mr McGregor said the treatment didn’t hurt at all.
‘‘You only need a local [anaesthetic],’’ he said. ‘‘ I didn’t feel it. The biopsy needle hurt much worse.’’
The Hunter Prostate Cancer Alliance volunteer, who has also beaten bowel cancer, is on the mend and suffering no real side effects.
‘‘I didn’t have any side effects from treatment at all,’’ he said. ‘‘I was a bit lethargic [but] talking to earlier guys, they had real problems.’’
Mr McGregor has a sense of humour about the rise in the value of his golden prostate: ‘‘My kids reckon they’re going to cremate me so they can get it back.’’
Online link helps calculate ailment risk
MEN can calculate their risk of getting prostate cancer online.
A group of leading prostate cancer academics last month nominated a number of websites that help men to calculate their risk.
It was part of a ‘‘consensus statement’’ released with their position on Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) testing and its relation to risk and potential false negatives.
In the calculators men nominate their age, family history and urinary symptoms to help assess their risk.