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Prostate Cancer

Cancer of the prostate (a small organ within the male reproductive system) becomes more common as men get older. Prostate tumors usually grow slowly and respond well to treatment when detected early. The prostate clinic at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is the only clinic in the mid-South region dedicated to diagnosing and treating patients with prostate cancer.

Our experts in prostate cancer care are recognized around the country and around the world for effective, leading-edge treatments. Whether it’s early-stage cancer or cancer that is advanced and complex, we provide the personalized care and options you need. 

Prostate Cancer: Why Choose Vanderbilt-Ingram?

At Vanderbilt-Ingram, you will find:

  • Experienced team focused on you: No matter if the tumor is slow growing or aggressive, you need the right treatment plan tailored to you. Our prostate cancer specialists are experts in all options for diagnosis and treatment, with years of experience treating a high volume of patients with prostate cancer.
  • Innovative techniques: Vanderbilt-Ingram is a regional and national leader in the research and adoption of new techniques for cancer diagnosis and treatment. New innovations help you obtain a precise, effective and safe diagnosis and treatment with minimal disruption to your life. From image-guided biopsies to a cancer treatment vaccine to precise robotic surgery, we are at the forefront of prostate cancer innovation.  
  • Collaborative care: With all your care providers in one place, you will have not just convenience, but better quality care. For example, if your treatment may affect your heart, we’ll assign you a dedicated genitourinary cardiologist to help keep your heart healthy during treatment.  
  • Expert second opinion: Patients who were diagnosed or had treatment at a smaller cancer center often seek a second opinion from our specialists. Our innovation, expertise and strong experience in treating prostate cancer means we can offer an expert evaluation of your diagnosis and treatment.
  • Compassion and sensitivity: At Vanderbilt-Ingram, we understand that having prostate cancer has an emotional impact on you. Our team offers you the care and support you need through education, support groups and a survivorship program.
  • Tumor boards:  Our cancer experts meet often as a community, sharing their expertise and discussing how to better care for patients. During our regular genitourinary tumor board meetings, our prostate cancer experts discuss complex cases and work together on treatment recommendations. With some of the leading experts in prostate cancer sharing their expertise, we can develop the most effective treatment plans.
  • Clinical trials: Vanderbilt-Ingram is a leader in clinical research, developing new approaches for prostate cancer patients. As part of planning your diagnosis and treatment, we may discuss if a clinical trial is right for you. Clinical trials provide access to techniques unavailable anywhere else, such as:
    • High-intensity focused ultrasound, which uses sound waves to destroy the tumor
    • MRI-guided ultrasound ablation, a noninvasive treatment that uses MRI to direct heat waves to destroy the tumor

Prostate Cancer Diagnosis: Our Approach

A precise diagnosis is crucial to choosing treatment. Our goal is to get you the right diagnosis, right away, without unnecessary testing. We offer:

  • Advanced diagnostic technology, including targeted techniques like image-guided biopsy
  • Expert, focused tumor boards that evaluate complex cases to recommend the most appropriate diagnostic methods
  • Collaboration with other Vanderbilt cancer experts to choose the most comprehensive, personalized and appropriate diagnostic options

Patients often seek us for diagnosis when they:

  • Need a second opinion: If you have previously been diagnosed at a different cancer center, we welcome you to come to us for an expert analysis and evaluation. We will help you make the right decision for your care.
  • Have advanced cancer: If you have been told you have advanced or complex cancer, you can find hope and care at Vanderbilt-Ingram. We have extensive experience with patients who may have been told they have no treatment options or have been turned away from other cancer centers.

Prostate Cancer: Diagnostic Tests

Prostate cancer may be detected before it causes any symptoms. A simple blood test to detect prostate specific antigens (PSAs) may indicate prostate cancer.

However, a PSA test is not a definitive diagnosis. If the test shows high levels of PSAs, your doctor may recommend further testing. When and whether to begin regular PSA tests depends on your risk factors and medical history. Talk to your doctor about when you should have your PSA levels checked and the benefits and risks of PSA screening. 

If your PSA levels are high or you experience symptoms such as pain during urination or difficulty urinating, we are one of the few centers in the state to offer genetic testing and DNA-driven testing to obtain the most accurate diagnosis. Diagnostic testing may include: 

  • Digital rectal exam: During this in-office test, your doctor inserts a finger into your rectum to feel for any bumps on your prostate. This quick exam can give your doctor valuable information to help shape a diagnosis.
  • Transrectal ultrasound: We insert a small ultrasound probe (approximately the size of a finger) into your rectum to obtain more detailed images of the prostate. We can numb the area before the procedure so you are comfortable. The exam typically takes less than 10 minutes.
  • Biopsy: For this procedure, we remove a small tissue sample from the prostate to analyze. We offer you a local anesthetic to numb the area. We offer leading biopsy techniques:
    • Fusion-guided biopsy: We are one of the first facilities in Tennessee to provide this advanced biopsy procedure. Combining MRI and real-time ultrasound imaging, we obtain detailed images of the prostate. These images help us precisely target the suspicious areas during a biopsy procedure, helping doctors locate the tumors that may require treatment.

Prostate Cancer Treatment at Vanderbilt-Ingram

Vanderbilt-Ingram is leading the way in innovative treatments for prostate cancer, including precision medicine, which uses the tumor’s DNA to match the appropriate treatments to the right patient.

Our goal is to destroy the cancer in the least invasive way possible, so there is less disruption to your life. Treatment options include:

  • Active surveillance: Many prostate cancers grow slowly and don’t require immediate treatment. Your doctor may suggest active surveillance to carefully watch for whether the tumor grows. This method enables us to quickly switch to active treatment if we notice any changes in the tumor, and it does not put you at unnecessary risk of treatment side effects.
  • Robotic surgery: Vanderbilt-Ingram was one of the first cancer centers in the country to use a robotic surgical system to treat prostate cancer. Our team includes national leaders in robotic surgery for prostate cancer. This minimally invasive procedure uses small incisions, allowing doctors to access hard-to-reach areas and perform precise procedures to remove the prostate gland. This type of surgery often results in an easier, shorter recovery for you. Find out more about surgery.
  • Radiation therapy: We use advanced external radiation therapy techniques to treat prostate cancer. Radiation therapy uses powerful radiation waves to target and destroy the cancer:
    • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): This technique provides a highly precise treatment of the prostate while sparing normal healthy tissues. We shape the radiation beam to match the tumor exactly, so the radiation waves target only the tumor and not the surrounding tissue.
    • Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT): SBRT is similar to IMRT. It is a newer treatment option that requires fewer treatments. 
    • SpaceOAR® hydrogel: OAR stands for “organs at risk.” This unique device acts as a spacer between the rectum and the prostate. The goal is to protect the rectum during radiation treatments. The hydrogel creates a space, so when the radiation beams hit the prostate, they don’t damage the rectum in the process.
  • Chemotherapy: This therapy includes both traditional chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. We typically recommend chemotherapy if the cancer has spread beyond the prostate to other organs. We work with you to minimize side effects so you are as comfortable as possible. Chemotherapy services are available at multiple infusion centers, so you can find care at the location that’s closest to you. Two types of chemotherapy we use:
    • Traditional chemotherapy uses strong medications to destroy cancer cells. You can take the medicine orally or via injection.
    • Hormonal therapy works by altering the levels of certain hormones in the body, which interfere with the tumor’s ability to grow.
  • Cryotherapy: For small tumors and cancer that hasn't spread far, your surgeon may suggest using cryoablation, a process using cold gas to freeze and destroy the tumor.
  • High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU): This unique, less-invasive treatment uses ultrasound waves to destroy a tumor. A doctor inserts an ultrasound probe into the rectum and directs the sound waves to the cancerous portions of the prostate to destroy them. This method is available through a clinical trial.
  • Cancer treatment vaccine: We are the first center in the Southeast region to use Provenge, the first FDA-approved cancer treatment vaccine. This treatment helps activate the body’s immune system to fight metastatic prostate cancer (prostate cancer that has spread to other organs).

Comprehensive Post-Treatment Support

Cancer affects all aspects of your life, and it affects you even after treatments are completed. We offer robust support services – including a survivorship program and an integrative care center – to help you during treatment and in your life after treatment. 

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