Radiation Oncology: Targeting prostate cancer and more

Dr. Bradley Tamler, radiation oncologist
What would you do if you were diagnosed with cancer? That’s the question Larry Solari faced in November. Because of his healthy, disciplined lifestyle and good genes, the diagnosis came as a shock to the then-64-year-old businessman, golfer, husband, father, grandfather.

Solari felt fine. He had no apparent symptoms. He saw his doctor and had a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test regularly. Then, in one of his regular tests, his PSA was elevated. A second test confirmed the result.

He had a biopsy and got the news: "You have cancer." Solari consulted friends and colleagues who had experience with prostate cancer and he educated himself about stages and grades and treatments. His urologist, Dr. Donald Goldman, outlined treatment options, including surgery and radiation. After consultations with doctors in Monterey and San Francisco, Solari decided against surgery and chose treatment at Community Hospital.

Some people will tell you the most important features of the radiation oncology center at Community Hospital are the advanced treatment options for prostate and other cancers. Others will tell you it is the quality of patient care — the attention to detail, the warm blankets, the kind words, the reassuring touch, the willing ear, the joyful ringing of a bell to signal the end of treatment, the people.

At the hospital, Solari met with radiation oncologist Dr. Bradley Tamler.

"He looked at my numbers and stage and grade, and told me there was no guarantee, statistically, that the cancer was confined to the prostate," Solari says. "Dr. Tamler’s concern made me concerned. Statistical analysis said I had a 70-percent chance that the cancer was contained. But what should I do with the 30-percent chance that it wasn’t?’

"When Dr. Tamler said, ‘If you were my brother, this is what I would recommend you do,’ that was significant. That resonated with me. His plan seemed to offer me the best cure rate. It offered probability and dealt with possibility."

Following hormone therapy to shrink his enlarged prostate gland, Solari underwent a customized schedule of radiation treatments. This was followed by radioactive seed treatment, in which tiny seeds are implanted directly in the prostate to deliver radiation with minimal damage to healthy tissue. Then there was more hormone therapy.

"We are a state-of-the-art radiation facility with the most advanced and effective radiation oncology therapy for each patient," says Tamler, "and we do it in a warm environment with a caring staff. There is no skimping on treatment technology or quality of care.

"Community Hospital was the first on the Central Coast to have intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), designed to give tumors the highest-possible dose of radiation without affecting healthy tissue. We were also the first to deliver image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), enabling radiation oncologists to pinpoint the exact location of the tumor before each treatment, for extremely precise targeted therapy."

Community Hospital has been a full-service radiation oncology facility since 1972. It has continued to introduce advanced technology, including its state-of-the-art linear accelerators, commonly found only at major urban facilities.

"As part of a hospital," says Tamler, "our radiation oncology facility provides additional advantages to our patients by offering an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment. Twice a week, experts in pathology, radiology, surgery, medical oncology, as well as radiation oncology, meet to discuss patients and develop treatment plans."

About half the patients who develop cancer will get radiation therapy.

The most common cancer overall is skin cancer, says Dr. Patrick Feehan, a radiation oncologist. The most common female cancer is breast cancer, and the most common male cancer is prostate cancer.

"If you are a man, and you live long enough, you will get prostate cancer," says Feehan. "About 70 percent of 80-year-old men get prostate cancer; but as prostate cancer in older men can be very slow-growing, not all men need to be treated."

When people do need cancer treatment, Feehan says, "they need to go to a serious center, which means more than cutting-edge technology. You also need a quality staff, attention to detail, a collaborative approach, and caring physicians."

Solari found what he was looking for at Community Hospital. Now, he has returned to his business life and his golf game. He works out and takes a daily four-to-five-mile walk with his dog Max.

"I have nothing but high regard for the hospital," he says. "The people are wonderful, really gracious and friendly. At the end of my radiation treatment program, they posted a big sign that read, ‘Congratulations, Larry!’ I rang the bell, and everybody clapped. It was well done."