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Hydrogel Spacer Helps Protect Healthy Tissue During Radiation Therapy

Dayton Physicians NetworkAccording to the American Cancer Society, urological cancers, which include cancers of the bladder, kidney, prostate and testicles, are relatively common. In the United States, bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer among men and ninth with women. More than 50,000 new cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed each year.

In younger men, ages 15 to 44, testicular cancer is most prevalent. But one out of every 10 men, most over the age of 50, will develop prostate cancer at some point, making it the most common cancer experienced by American men.

Treating urological cancer involves therapy using heavy doses of precisely administered radiation. Some of the major challenges to the success of the treatment include complications caused by the high concentration of radiation needed in order for the therapy to be effective. The challenge is to deposit a large enough amount of radiation at the proper location without doing harm to the other areas, including the bladder and rectum.

Since the ultimate goal of radiation therapy is to maximize the dose of radiation administered in order to gain the greatest benefit in the shortest amount of time, that also means more potential damage to the tissues surrounding the treatment area.

In order to deal with localized disease such as prostate cancer, it’s important to put as much space as possible between the organ being treated and other areas, in particular the rectum. Now, a new injectable material can artificially and temporarily increase that space, to help protect the rectum from the harmful radiation so vitally needed to treat localized prostate cancer.

SpaceOAR is the name of an absorbable hydrogel used to create a space between a diseased prostate undergoing radiotherapy and the rectum. The barrier provides protection of the rectum during the radiation treatment, minimizing complications resulting from damaging otherwise healthy tissue. The “OAR” in SpaceOAR stands for “organ at risk” – in this case, that organ would be the rectum.

Using ultrasound, the doctor locates the area where the SpaceOAR is to be injected. The hydrogel is made up of two liquids that combine to form a soft gel mostly made of water, so it can be safely used without injury or allergic reaction. In clinical trials, patients who were given the hydrogel spacer reported significantly reduced rectal pain and less severe, long-term rectal complications.

Patients may be awake or under general anesthesia during the procedure. This minimally invasive hydrogel stays intact during the radiation therapy, but over time, it is gradually absorbed by the body, once the therapy is completed.

“Giving more distance between rectal wall and prostate enables the use of a high dose of radiation to treat cancer in the prostate, but with a much lower dose going to the rectal area. This provides a significant benefit to the patient by preserving the healthy tissue in the surrounding area,” explained Douglas Ditzel, D.O., radiation oncologist with Dayton Physicians Network.

A special needle is fed by two syringes, which merge into one applicator. The hydrogel is injected and solidifies in about 15 seconds within the space, spreading out the affected tissue. The gel will remain there from three-to-six months, providing a space of about one-and-a-half centimeters, expanded from the original area of approximately three millimeters.

“So far, the procedure has been very effective,” Dr. Ditzel said. “It takes about 20-to-30 minutes, and patients are home and resuming normal activity right away.”

SpaceOAR helps to preserve healthy tissue and maintain rectal, urinary and sexual health and quality of life. Because of this preservation, the procedure also minimizes side effects associated with prostate cancer radiation therapy, such as rectal pain, bleeding, and discomfort.

Not all patients and situations are right for SpaceOAR. If the cancer has spread to the surrounding tissue or moved somewhere else within the body, the hydrogel will be of little use. In this situation, the radiation oncologist must examine the case and determine the best course of action, based on the specific patient’s needs.

If you are undergoing radiation therapy for prostate cancer and would like to learn more about how SpaceOAR can become part of your treatment plan, call Dayton Physicians Network at 937-293-1622937-293-1622 or click here.