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New Machine At OHSU Promises Reduced Prostate Cancer Side Effects

OHSU showcased a new million-dollar machine Wednesday, that the hospital hopes will reduce the most common side effects of prostate cancer treatment.vvOne of the first Oregonians to use the system finished a month and a half of radiation treatments Wednesday, as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports.

As a Vietnam Veteran, there’s not much that ruffles Bend retiree, Mark Graham.  At 62, he still stands tall and thin. But he says, it’s been hard to see himself as a patient:

Mark Graham: “It’s sometimes tough to get over that initial part when you’ve been told to let yourself go and be able to accept their help in things.”

Graham walks into a wood paneled room at OHSU’s newest hospital. It’s buried in the bedrock of Pill Hill and has concrete walls, six feet thick  — to protect people from the radiation that’s released here.  A massive grey machine with long arms stands next to one wall.

SOUNDS – beeps and whirrings

Mark Graham: “There’s always something happening. It’s whiring buzzing, there are little laser lights, green red, are moving around and Ö it’s actually kind of fun.”
Kristian Foden-Vencil: “Sounds like being in a movie.”
Mark Graham: “Well like a Star Wars. 3PO when he’s being put back together.”

Radiation Therapist, Andrea Dale, directs Graham to lie down on a table and tells him to keep very still.  She then moves the table a few millimeters in one direction or another via a series of motors.

She’s trying to detect three tiny transmitters, each the size of a grain of rice, which have been implanted into Graham’s tumor.

Andrea Dale: “Okay so we’re ready to treat. We’re going to leave the room here. Okay Mr. Graham, here we go."

For about 15 minutes the machine irradiates Graham’s tumor.

Despite 39 visits and weeks of driving between Bend and Portland, Graham counts himself lucky.  Radiation of the prostate can have nasty side effects, like:  incontinence, impotence and bleeding. That’s because radiation damages healthy cells near the prostate — because the radiation can’t be aimed accurately enough at the tumor.

But OHSU Doctor Arthur Hung, says by implanting the three tiny devices in Graham’s prostate, the hospital’s new ‘Calypso’ machine can better zero-in on the tumor.

Arthur Hung: “The advantages of the technologies these days, over 20 yeas ago, is that now we can treat men with prostate cancer, they don’t really have any downtime in their life and they go on with all the same functions, able to urinate, able to continue to enjoy an active sex life without any difficulty.”

It used to be that a small cough, or even the slightest bubble of trapped gas, could move the prostate gland during a radiation treatment. Meaning the adjacent organ, which controls the passage of urine, would be irradiated and damaged. Hung says that’s not the case anymore.

[Sound of Machine]

Back in the radiation room, Graham pulls his pants back on.

Mark Graham: “Now I am done, now I can go back home and see my wife.”
Kristian Foden-Vencil: “How does that feel?”
Mark Graham: “It’s great. It’s great.”

Dr. Hung says there are about 13 Calypso devices currently in use nationwide. The machine, made in Seattle, has only recently received FDA approval. Hung says it's a real boon to Oregon men since the state has an unusually high incidence of prostate cancer.

Arthur Hung: “Fortunately the population in Oregon is much healthier, so men tend to live longer. And instead of developing heart disease or lung cancer, they end up developing prostate cancer over time.”
Kristian Foden-Vencil: “So something is going to get you in the end, regardless.”
Arthur Hung: “Unfortunately that’s one of the things we can’t avoid in life.”

Since the Calypso system is new, it’s not clear that patients will definitely suffer less discomfort and side effects. The company website doesn’t offer any long term studies either.

Still, about one in six men develop prostate cancer in the US.  20 years ago the diagnosis meant a 50/50 chance of survival.  

Nowadays, with modern technologies like Calypso, about 80% of patients survive. If the Calypso system proves as successful as hoped, OHSU says it could be used to treat other cancers, like breast cancer, as well.

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