Proton Therapy Treats Prostate Cancer with Minimal Side Effects

Many men half his age would be hard-pressed to match Alberto Gonzalez’s energy, enthusiasm and determination.

After undergoing treatment for prostate cancer over the past year or so, Mr. Gonzalez, who turned 80 in August, is itching to get back on his bike. In fact, he’s already thinking about an around-the-state ride to help draw awareness to prostate cancer and raise funds for Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health South Florida, where he was treated.

Mr. Gonzalez’s prostate cancer was caught in the spring of 2018 during an annual check-up. A PSA level of 25 and a Gleason Score of 9 indicated he was at high risk for cancer. An MRI confirmed the presence of a tumor on his prostate gland that was on the verge of metastasizing into his colon.

(Watch Now: Alberto Gonzalez and his wife, Lina, along with Marcio Fagundes, M.D., Medical Director of Radiation Oncology at Miami Cancer Institute, talk about how proton therapy helped Mr. Gonzalez overcome advanced prostate cancer. Video by Anthony Vivian and Alcyene de Almeida Rodrigues.)

Because Mr. Gonzalez had late-stage prostate cancer, Marcio A. Fagundes, M.D., Medical Director of Radiation Oncology at Miami Cancer Institute, recommended proton therapy, the most advanced cancer treatment in the world. Proton therapy is a form of radiation that beams particles precisely where they are needed to destroy the tumor while sparing healthy surrounding tissue.

Proton therapy is widely used to treat prostate cancer because it allows us to target the tumor with no damage to the bowel or bladder, and with minimal side effects, so you can continue to lead a normal life,” said Dr. Fagundes, who has extensive experience in proton therapy. “We frequently use it to treat just the prostate and seminal vesicles in earlier stage disease but it’s also very effective for patients like Mr. Gonzalez who have more advanced disease and need to have their lymph nodes treated as well.”

Mr. Gonzalez underwent 39 sessions of proton therapy at Miami Cancer Institute – every day, Monday through Friday – in just under eight weeks. At the same time, he received monthly doses of Lupron, a hormone therapy that blocks the body’s production of testosterone, which can fuel prostate cancer growth. His last dose is in January.

“It was so unexpected; I was feeling great,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Just a month or so before my diagnosis, I finished the ‘Bike MS: Breakaway to Key Largo’ (a fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis), where I did 100 miles on my bicycle. For a 78-year-old, that was pretty good, I think.”

Mr. Gonzalez was grateful for the care he received at Miami Cancer Institute, which became his second home during his daily treatments.

“What impressed me the most was the personnel – the doctors, the technicians, the staff,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “You feel like you’re welcome – you’re not a bother or a number. You feel the love.”

Mr. Gonzalez’s wife, Lina, accompanied him to every one of his proton therapy sessions at Miami Cancer Institute, and was equally moved by the care and attention that both she and her husband received.

“After his final treatment, the next Monday, it was like we were missing something. This became such a part of our lives that we really missed coming here,” Mrs. Gonzalez said. “This was our life, every day for almost two months, and it was a fantastic experience. We both thank God that all of our steps, and all of our doctors, brought us over here.”

Mr. Gonzalez said he wants other men to understand the importance of prostate cancer screenings, as early detection almost always leads to better outcomes.

“Don’t waste any time. Once you’re in your 40s, check your PSA every year – twice a year as you get older,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “The cancer isn’t going to let you know it’s there until it’s too late. Don’t wait, and don’t be afraid. Just do it.”

And if you are diagnosed with prostate cancer?

“You can fight it,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “You can beat cancer.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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