For patients in eastern North Carolina with any type of cancer, the burden of travel can be a very real challenge. Some have a hard time finding loved ones who can miss work to help them drive to ongoing treatment, trips that sometimes are many miles. Others simply don’t have the means of transportation.

With sparse public transportation, patients benefit from treatment options that minimize the need to drive long distances. Keeping care as close to home as possible means patients have an easier time receiving the treatment they need, when they need it.

For those with prostate cancer, which is the second most common cancer in American men according to the American Cancer Society, a treatment option called SpaceOAR helps provide easy access to high-quality care close to home.

SpaceOAR is a hydrogel option for men undergoing radiation for prostate cancer. In the past, external radiotherapy was the only treatment option, but it posed a risk of damaging surrounding organs, particularly the rectum, which in turn limited the amount of radiation that could be used to treat patients. The SpaceOAR acts as a spacer between the rectum and prostate which helps reduce the risk of the rectum being exposed to unsafe levels of radiation.

“Think of the SpaceOAR like an air bag in a car,” said Todd Jenkins, an oncology physicist with Vidant. “We know that the higher dose of radiation, the better chance we have at eliminating the cancer. The hydrogel acts as that air bag, protecting the rectum and other organs.”

At the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center at Vidant Beaufort Hospital in Washington, Dr. Robert McLaurin, a radiation oncologist, and his team have used the SpaceOAR in what they call “combination therapy,” which involves both external and internal radiation. The internal component is provided by radioactive seeds implanted directly into the prostate. The implant procedure is performed by Dr. Matthew Sean Peach, radiation oncologist with Vidant and ECU, working together with Dr. Michael Crawford and Dr. Michael Lobos, both of whom are urologists in Washington.

“This type of combination therapy is important because it not only provides the most effective treatment options for patients, but the seeds also help reduce the amount of external beam radiation needed,” said Dr. McLaurin. “When we reduce the need for daily outpatient radiotherapy, we reduce the need for patients to travel to our clinic for care. That’s a great benefit for our community.”

Dr. McLaurin said external beam radiotherapy alone typically requires patients to travel to receive treatment for nine weeks. With the combination therapy offered at the Sheppard Cancer Center, patients undergo the SpaceOAR and seed implant procedure, which takes a couple hours, and requires far fewer radiotherapy treatments, if any.

The SpaceOAR treatment is also offered at Vidant Cancer Care in Greenville.

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer. About 1 in 41 men will die of prostate cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Like other cancers, early detection is the key to reaching survivorship. McLaurin recommends men consult with their primary care physician to understand their risk factors and their need to be screened.

Still, he said eastern North Carolinians have access to treatment options like the SpaceOAR and combination therapy to help them defeat cancer.

“What’s even more exciting than keeping care close to home is curing our patients,” said Dr. McLaurin. “This combination therapy allows us to offer greater convenience and a higher cure rate.”

Highlighting Your Health is an educational segment courtesy of Vidant Health that appears twice a month in The Daily Reflector. Vidant is a mission-driven, 1,708-bed health system that annually serves a region of more than 1.4 million people in 29 eastern North Carolina counties. As a major resource for health services and education, Vidant’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.