By Joel Hall
Every year, approximately 200,000 men in the United States are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 25,000 die from the disease.
With this month being National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, Southern Regional Medical Center (SRMC) in Riverdale is making several strides to better treat those suffering with the disease, and educate the people most at risk.
Dr. Darrell Carmen, a staff urologist with SRMC, said that one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. He said early detection is crucial because the disease often shows no signs until its very late stages.
"It's the most common cancer in men, so we try to put emphasis on it, particularly through screening, because its a silent disease," said Carmen. "By the time somebody is having symptoms, whether it is pelvic pain or blood in the urine, usually the disease has spread, and it cannot be cured."
Carmen said African-American men run a higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and that the disease is often more aggressive in African Americans. He said all men over 50 and African-American men over 40 should be tested regularly for prostate cancer, using either a digital rectal exam or a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test.
Carmen added that fruits and vegetables, high in antioxidants, such as tomatoes, can help neutralize the toxins which cause prostate cancer.
In addition to education, SRMC recently spent $1.8 million on equipment to help doctors more accurately treat prostate cancer. Earlier this year, the hospital purchased the da Vinci robot, one of the latest tools in prostate cancer surgery. Whereas traditional prostate cancer removal requires a large, mid-section incision and major blood loss, the da Vinci robot uses small, doctor-guided, robotic arms to make a series of small, accurate incisions.
Since June 2008, the hospital has done nine surgeries using the robot. The result has been less blood loss, less pain, and quicker recovery time for the patients, according to Melody Mena, managing director of surgical services at SRMC.
"Instead of doing the old-fashioned surgery where we cut them open from A to Z, we are going to do it with this robot," said Mena. "The surgery is so precise, we have a very good outcome for these patients."
During the surgery, while a nurse, anesthesiologist, and assistant tend to the patient, the doctor performs the surgery from a distance using a highly-advanced control center. A magnification screen at the control center allows the doctor to locate and avoid cutting nerves vital to other male functions.
"The patients are amazed because they don't have the pain," said Mena. "They may spend one night in the hospital. The patient also has more of a chance of not losing erection or bladder control."
Mena said at this time, SRMC is the only metro Atlanta hospital south of Atlanta that has the robot. Eventually, she would like to apply the machine to perform certain gynecological surgeries on women.
"I think it is definitely something benefiting the Southern Crescent, because this is the new standard of prostate care for men, and we are the only hospital in the area that has it."