Now, radiation therapy is providing new hope for the sickest of the sick. The Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall provides the latest on radiation treatment for prostate cancer patients whose cancer comes back following surgery.
Prostate cancer is a disease that in most cases is very treatable with surgery, radiation or hormone therapy. Many men develop it at some point in their life, and sometimes it grows so slowly in older men that doctors often suggest watching and waiting to see how aggressive it is before intervening.
Although surgery to remove prostate cancer is a common and usually effective option, Marshall says in some cases the cancer can return after surgery with a vengeance -- often much more aggressively and spreading quickly to other parts of the body.
It's thought by many doctors that patients whose cancer has returned have practically no hope for a cure. But a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association provides strong evidence that there is still a chance to kill and cure the cancer when it returns with radiation before it spreads to other parts of the body.
The study looked at 500 men who were treated with radiation after their cancer returned. The researchers say that radiation "changed the natural history of the disease" for these men. Although the study doesn't conclusively prove the benefits of radiation in these cases, Marshall says an expert writing in an editorial saw enough evidence to urge doctors to use radiation sooner rather than later if they see a recurrence of cancer.
Radiation is not prescribed for the majority of patients after surgery because it doesn't work for patients whose cancer has already spread. And if doctors see the signs that cancer is returning aggressively, it's often assumed that it has already spread.
Marshall says the most common practice is to simply prescribe hormone therapy to slow the disease as much as possible, but that's not a cure. The study suggests that radiation has a more important role to play in these patients than widely thought.
The American Cancer Society says men should get checked for prostate cancer early, starting at the age of 50, or 45 for African American men, who are at higher risk. A blood test called a PSA test, which can reveal a warning sign for prostate cancer, and the much-feared, but very necessary, rectal exam, can help detect prostate cancer.