Cancer center develops new prostate cancer test

Cancer Therapy and Research Center's cancer calculator determines men's risk

By Ursula Pari - Anchor

SAN ANTONIO - The Cancer Therapy and Research Center is using a new method to get men to understand their prostate cancer treatment risks and, in some cases, save them from unessessary biopsy for benign tumors that won't spread.

Approximately 30,000 men per year die from the disease, so taking the right action at the right time is crucial, doctors say.

Most men have no symptoms until the cancer spreads, so time is of the essence to learn your risk before you have any sign of the disease.

Dr. Ian Thompson, director of the CRTC, developed a new method to display and calculate a man's risk using a grid of smiley faces.

"It shows exactly what a man's risk is," he said. "Then, once it's up there, there's a button to click that shows a half-hour video that gives all the information."

That half-hour video helps the patient understand where to go from that point and it can be shared with family members who may want to understand the complexities of the decision.

After entering data on the patient, a grid of faces appear on the screen ranging from smiles to no expression to frowns. The severity of the risk is indicated by the frowns, and a numeric percentage to further illustrate the dangers.

Thompson showed how one grid for one man may indicate only a high chance of a slow-growing type tumor that requires no action, just monitoring.

That was the case for John Compton, who got good news from his evaluation. 

"I have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but it's a very benign type," he said. "In my particular case, I have no more than a 5 percent chance that I would die from prostate cancer."

The calculator was featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  It is being used at the CTRC daily now for prostate patients.

"It's like when we go to buy a new washing machine, we think about how much it costs, the reliability and so forth.  If we go into that much detail buying a washing machine, we should do it with our health," said Thompson.

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