This year, more than 162,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Cancer treatment, while life-saving, can cause incontinence and erectile dysfunction, but a new outpatient procedure can protect men from the unwanted side effects caused by radiation.
John Schroeder officiates track and cross country meets for kids in his hometown. At 66 years old, the former high school athlete places a premium on staying active and healthy. Several years ago, a routine PSA test indicated his levels were higher than normal, and doctors confirmed he had prostate cancer.
"And they kept saying, 'You're a young guy, you should have surgery.' And I kept thinking, 'I'm a young guy, why do I want to buy Depends the rest of my life? Why do I want to have erectile dysfunction?'" Schroeder said.
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He also struggled with ulcerative colitis, which could be aggravated by radiation treatments. That's when he learned about a new FDA- approved hydrogel to protect delicate tissue. It's a called SpaceOAR, which stands for "organ at risk."
Radiation oncologists mix the liquid gel with an accelerant. In an office or outpatient setting, doctors inject the gel near the prostate. It solidifies in the body and creates a space between the prostate and delicate tissue.
"Having the gel move the rectum away from the prostate significantly lowers the dose of radiation that the rectal tissues get," explained Dr. Edward Soffen, chairman for the Department of Radiation Oncology at CentraState Medical Center.
That means a reduction in side effects like bleeding, pain and incontinence. The gel stays in place in the body for three months, and then dissolves and is excreted naturally. For Schroeder, the SpaceOAR kept him on his feet and free of side effects during radiation, and after.
Right now, the SpaceOAR hydrogel is covered by Medicare on a case-by-case basis. Soffen says he is hoping insurance carriers will expand coverage of the procedure.