GPS system limits side effect in cancer patients

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) – A diagnosis of prostate cancer is news no one wants to hear, but thanks to new technology at Bon Secours Cancer Institute in Henrico, the side effects of treatment don't have to be as dangerous or painful.

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in American men and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. 85-year-old John W. Kennedy's bad news came after a routine physical in January showed his PSA levels were on the rise-an indicator of prostate cancer.

"It's been enlarged most my life, nothing ever done but the PSA shook 'em and it bothered me a bit too. I don't want to let cancer grow when there's something going on that shouldn't," he said.

Kennedy weighed his options and decided to try something new when Doctor T.J. Wallace told him about Calypso's GPS for the body.

"When you hear GPS for the body, I think it puts people's minds at ease and it allows them to go though their treatments not really worrying about the affects of the radiation as much as they would otherwise," Dr. Wallace said.

Since March, Dr. Wallace has implanted about 75 sets of transponders into his cancer patients at Bon Secours. Two weeks before radiation, three transponders or beacons are implanted into the prostate.

"They planted three little gizmos in my prostate making a triangle out of it," Kennedy said.

Then, they use scans to plan the radiation therapy.

"The machine sends a signal to the beacons, which then send three signals back to the machine telling it to target and localize the prostate, and then it also tracks the prostate during the radiation delivery," said Wallace.

Dr. Wallace says the real-time tracking helps combat some of the standard issues in radiation.

"The prostate, similar to other tissues in the body, moves depending upon digestive patterns, respiration patterns, if the patient coughs," he explained.

It also protects organs, which ordinarily may get unintended radiation, damaging healthy tissue. Wallace says it allows oncologists to give higher doses, which have proven more successful in treatment. But it's not perfect and not without side effects.

"It affects your kidneys, the bowels a little bit and there's a little pain and burning. A normal person could take care of that," Kennedy said.

Patients get 43 sessions-one a day Monday through Friday, with a break on the weekends. Not quite finished with his treatment, Kennedy says he's optimistic and only lost a little energy.

JOHN: "I used to press more than twice my weight and I think I could press my weight right now even at 85."
LAURA: "Going through radiation?"
JOHN: "Going through radiation I think I could do it today."

Dr. Wallace says they're looking for approval for use in lung cancer cases...especially because it is difficult to stay on target as a patient breathes during radiation.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.