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    Government backs radical plan for prostate cancer
    Jill Margo
    Jill Margo
    Health Editor
    Sep 14, 2019 — 12.34am

    The power behind prostate cancer was revealed in Canberra this week. Prime Minister Scott Morrison talked about being tested and how his father had survived more than a decade since his diagnosis.

    Federal health minister Greg Hunt disclosed he had a family history of the disease, too, and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said because he’d had a high reading on a test he was now being tested every three months.

    Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison shared personal stories about prostate cancer. Alex Ellinghausen

    All were talking before the annual Parliamentary Big Aussie Barbie, run by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA).

    Given that one in seven Australian men will be diagnosed with this cancer, many more politicians could have joined them.

    Australia is poised to transform the way this cancer is managed. If it pulls it off, it will be the first country to do so.

    This new push is being led by Professor Jeff Dunn, recently appointed chief executive of the PCFA, who has been working on this for many years.

    He already has support from all clinical groups associated with prostate cancer in Australia and at the barbecue on Wednesday he formally received bipartisan political support too.

    So, what is it?

    It’s a radical approach aimed at ensuring that men with this cancer not only live long, but live well too.

    Minister for Health Greg Hunt. Alex Ellinghausen

    Dunn says it is not enough to treat this cancer as just a physical disease. The heavy emotional, social and personal payload it carries requires serious attention too.

    The new push involves routinely screening patients for distress and offering those in need quality help.

    “This is the new frontier in innovative care. It’s not just defeating prostate cancer, but restoring hope in a future free from both physical and psychological pain,” he says.

    Before and after treatment, up to one in four men experience anxiety and up to one in five report depression. Australian men diagnosed with this cancer are at a 70 per cent increased risk of suicide compared with their peers.

    This new plan is ground-breaking because survival rates are now so high that men are living with the fallout of their cancer for decades.

    More than 200,000 Australian men live with it and as the population ages and grows the pool of survivors will continue to grow.

    On Wednesday, Hunt launched The PCFA Position Statement for Distress Screening and Psychosocial Care for Men with Prostate Cancer, which outlines the plan.

    It, and a monograph launched with it, are products of the Centre for Research Excellence in Prostate Cancer Survivorship, funded by the government through the National Health and Medical Research Council.

    The monograph provides a model for psychosocial care.

    While Dunn has a big job ahead, he is used to working at scale. For almost two decades, he has been one of the world’s leading proponents of psychosocial care in cancer.

    "This is the new frontier in innovative care," says Professor Jeff Dunn. supplied

    In 2010 as a Director of the International Psycho-Oncology Society, he successfully advocated for the recognition of distress as the 6th Vital Sign after temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respiration and pain.

    The society recommends that quality psychosocial care should be recognised as a universal human right and should be integrated into routine cancer care.

    Dunn led a campaign to secure endorsement of the society’s standard of care by world cancer leaders and 76 international cancer organisations.

    He was successful.

    Now, the challenge for him is to roll out this plan in Australia and change practice so that attention to psychological wellbeing is part of standard care.

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    Majority of patients cancer-free after treatment developed at Rice

    Thirteen of the 15 prostate cancer patients treated with a Rice University-developed therapy were cancer-free after one year, a new study shows.

    The study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the most recent step in a 20-year quest to get Food and Drug Administration approval for AuroLase Therapy, a treatment method that involves nanoparticles. Nanoparticles can be 500 to 10,0000 times thinner than a human hair.

    "We're so excited about this," said Naomi Halas, Rice University engineer and nanoscientist. "This cancer touches every single family in some way. This is going to be a really good thing."

    Halas invented the particles — which are called nanoshells and are coated with a thin layer of gold — in 1997. Three years later, Halas met Rice colleague Jennifer West, and together they found a way to use these particles to attack cancer cells.

    They quickly founded a company, Nanospectra Biosciences, to develop the technology for commercial use.

    With this treatment technique, particles are injected into the bloodstream and automatically gravitate toward the tumor. Then, they are heated from outside the body with a low-power, near-infrared laser that destroys the cells.

    It worked in 13 of the 15 patients who received treatment — leaving them cancer-free after one year. Sixteen patients were part of the study, but only 15 received the treatment.

    Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for men in the United States, just behind lung cancer. One in nine men will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime, and one in 41 will die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.

    The patients selected were 58 to 79 years old and had low- to intermediate-risk localized prostate cancer, according to Rice. They underwent two days of treatment and were tested for cancer after three months, six months and one year.

    Frank Billingsley, KPRC chief meteorologist, underwent this treatment, but he wasn't included in the study. He is part of the larger clinical trial that involves 44 patients from across the U.S.

    All 16 patients included in this study were treated at Mount Sinai in New York, but some of the treatments, including Billingsley's, were conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The results of the other patients will be published later.

    Billingsley was diagnosed a year ago, and was declared cancer-free last December after undergoing this new cancer therapy.

    In December, Billingsley shared the good news on Facebook, saying "Last Friday's MRI following my gold nanoparticle procedure for prostate cancer came back this evening as Cancer Free!"

    He'd have more follow up tests, but said that the doctors were "'very confident that I've had a successful procedure. It's been a long few months. Thank you, everyone, for the support!"

    Halas believes the therapy could be used for many types of cancers, but she said prostate cancer was the focus first because of the negative side effects of traditional forms of treatment, such as radiation and chemotherapy.

    Those side effects can include erectile dysfunction and incontinence — and Halas knows about them first-hand.

    Her father was diagnosed at 85 in the early 2000s but didn't begin experiencing side effects —in his case, the inability to urinate — until two years after undergoing radiation treatment.

    "It was terrible," Halas said. "He was in and out of the hospital weekly. The doctor would catheterize him. He'd go home. Things would be fine for a few days, and then he'd have to go to the emergency room."

    Studies have shown that the nanoshells are safe and nontoxic.

    The results in this study are promising, Halas said, and she thinks the treatment could be approved by the FDA for commercial application in a year.

    "It's really just so satisfying to a start a project so long ago and envision this as something that could be used for widespread human use," Halas said. "It took longer than we thought but we're all just so thrilled and excited that we found an application that impacts a lot of people's lives positively."

    Alex Stuckey writes about NASA and the environment for the Houston Chronicle. You can reach her at [email redacted] or Twitter.com/alexdstuckey.

    From the Houston Chronicle