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Men’s Health, Cancer Screening and Treatment Options

Men’s Health, Cancer Screening and Treatment Options

Media Contact: Karina Rusk

Men’s Health, Cancer Screening and Treatment Options: Expert Advice from a Radiation Oncologist

Dr. Jacob Andrade, MD, knows how important it is for individuals to see their doctors every year for physicals, check-ups and screenings. As a radiation oncologist at Coastal Radiation Oncology and Salinas Valley Health Medical Center, he treats patients who have been diagnosed with cancer.

“A lot of people aren’t really set up to identify those individual risk factors for disease; not just cancer, but other diseases as well,” observes Dr. Andrade. “Going to your doctor regularly, getting an understanding of the disease in your family, especially the risk factors that you’re exposed to, and then the worrisome symptoms that you’re concerned about are definitely important to get figured out sooner rather than later.”

To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Dr. Jacob Andrade, MD, radiation oncologist at Coastal Radiation Oncology and Salinas Valley Health Medical Center, click here.

How Does Radiation Therapy Work?

“Whenever you have cancer, you should always be thinking, do I need chemotherapy? Do I need surgery? And do I need radiation therapy?” urges Dr. Andrade. He clarifies that more advanced cancers typically require a combination of treatment modalities, but if caught early through diligent screening, a single treatment method may be enough.

Radiation alone is used to treat skin, anal, cervical and throat cancers, as well as lower grade lymphomas. It works by targeting the cancer’s DNA. “One fundamental property of cancer is that it’s always growing. And when cells grow, that means they divide. And when they divide, they’re going to need an instruction book that basically tells them what they’re going to do—that’s the DNA,” Dr. Andrade explains.

Radiation mutates and damages the DNA, effectively destroying that instruction book cancer cells need to grow. Naturally, the radiation can damage normal cells, too. “But, since they’re all normal and healthy cells, they have repair mechanisms in place to help repair those damages,” he adds. “Cancer, on the other hand, is more concerned about growing, and it doesn’t have all of those repair mechanisms in place.”

Possible Side Effects Include…

“I think one of the most important things to be concerned about is the side effects,” says Dr. Andrade. “But, I’ll reassure you that your doctor is an expert in knowing the data and knowing what the risk of each specific treatment is. They are not going to recommend a treatment that is going to cause more damage than good.”

Radiation does cause damage to the cell. When cells are ”upset,“ it causes a stress which spurs cells to release different signals. This is known as inflammation—a systemic response mediated by the immune system. Inflammation can cause swelling, an increase of blood flow to the injured area, and an immune response to attack infection. Usually, after treatment is completed, the symptoms of inflammation go away.

However, a small amount of persistent irritation of the cell may remain. “Some of the cells don’t act entirely normal and they continue to send out these inflammatory signals.” Dr. Andrade notes that side effects, including long-lasting symptoms, are related to the total amount of radiation that the patient receives.

Advances in Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy was once delivered with X-rays, an approach that included multiple organs. As medicine advanced, and CT scans became available, radiation specialists can now see in three dimensions—pointing exactly to the target and also organs of risk in association to it. This has allowed for more condensed treatment schedules and larger doses, specifically targeted on the cancer itself.

Another advancement that helps limit radiation exposure to the disease is brachytherapy. “Brachytherapy comes from the term brachas, which is a Greek word that was used to describe short distances,” notes Dr. Andrade. “What that means is the radiation is only going to travel a short distance.”

Rather than an external bream that sends photons from several centimeters away, a radioactive source is implanted directly into the tumor. “Therefore, the radiation is being generated intimately in contact with the source you’re targeting,” adds Dr. Andrade.

Without a doubt, catching cancer early greatly improves treatment options and overall prognosis. “Going to your primary care doctor on a regular basis, as opposed to ending up in the ER, or worse, is definitely the desired option,” concludes Dr. Andrade.

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