Richard Hayden is a quick-witted 80-year-old living in Manhattan. He enjoys being healthy and active; taking advantage of all that New York City has to offer during his retired years.
Earlier this year, during a routine visit with his primary care physician, he was told that his prostate-specific antigen (referred to as "PSA") levels were abnormally high. Richard was then referred to Dr. Loo, a urologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. After several more blood tests, Dr. Loo became concerned about the potential of prostate cancer.
"Dr. Loo suggested that I see a uro-oncologist," says Richard, "and I was able to simply step down the hall to see Dr. Jim Hu, who told me about my options for testing and diagnosis."
After an MRI and a fusion-guided biopsy, it was confirmed: Richard had early-stage prostate cancer. He and Dr. Hu immediately began discussing the various treatment options available.
"I tend to deal with things matter-of-factly," says Richard. "The cancer was there, and it was time to do something about it. There was no use sitting around and languishing. I feel lucky that we discovered it so early."
What is cryotherapy?
Dr. Hu suggested cryotherapy (also called "cryosurgery" and "cryoablation"), a surgical technique to destroy abnormal tissue, including cancer. Helium is used to cool a probe that is applied directly to the cancerous cells, often with the help of ultrasound- or MRI-imaging tools.
This non-invasive procedure has proved to be an effective treatment for early-stage prostate cancer when the cancerous tissue is small and compact. Because Richard's cancer was confined to a small area on one side of the prostate, Dr. Hu believed this was a good first step toward treating his prostate cancer quickly.
Weighing the pros and cons
Richard diligently researched online, reading all he could about prostate cancer, cryosurgery, and other treatment options. "The most challenging part of this," explains Richard, "was sorting through the abundant information available to find the right facts for me. I tried to, within reason, interpret the journal articles I found online. The research took a lot of time, but was well worth it; I felt much more prepared throughout the entire process."
Richard decided that cryosurgery was the best choice for him because of its high success rates, as well as the fact that the procedure is minimally invasive. "I was also happy with the fact that I could potentially avoid radiation," he says, "and the difficult side effects that go along with it."
He was also encouraged by the fact that Weill Cornell Medicine is the first hospital in the region to perform cryotherapy for prostate cancer as an in-office procedure using only local anesthesia and aided by MRI-ultrasound fusion targeting technology. This approach treats only the cancerous part of the prostate.
Feeling confident with his treatment plan, just three months after his initial tests with his primary care physician, Richard was scheduled for cryosurgery at Weill Cornell Medicine's Department of Urology.
Overall, Richard was surprised by how little pain and discomfort he experienced. "Obviously," he recalls, "it wasn't the most comfortable that I've ever been in my life. But I was never in pain. The worst part was when the ultrasound probe was inserted. When the entire procedure was finished, I told Dr. Hu how impressed I was with how quick and relatively painless the treatment was."
After the procedure, Richard spent a few hours recovering at the hospital and then he and his partner, Pamela, took a cab back to their home. "I didn't go dancing that night," he says. "I was pretty exhausted, so I took it easy for the next few days. But I was able to eat regularly right away and never experienced any pain."
Richard experienced mild discomfort for a few days and now, one month after the procedure, he feels that he's almost back to 100 percent. He's grateful to the highly communicative staff at Weill Cornell Medicine for making the entire experience—from the initial blood tests to his recovery after the procedure—efficient and easy.
Recovering and moving forward
Richard will see Dr. Hu three more times this year to check his prostate for any signs of cancer. In the meantime, he is happily getting his life back on track. "It was incredible," says Richard, "that I was able to deal with the problem so quickly after the first blood tests."
The best part of the cryosurgery treatment for Richard? The lack of disruption to his lifestyle. "I may not be the most active person in the world right now," he says, "but I was glad to return to my daily routine and not have to spend as much time recovering. That was invaluable."
His prostate is also less enlarged than it was before the procedure. "I have better urinary control than before," he explains, "and that's still improving." According to Dr. Hu, it is common for patients to experience improved urinary flow following prostate cryotherapy, as enlarged prostate or "BPH" tissue is also destroyed during the procedure.
Richard suggests that all cancer patients take time to educate themselves about the different options and procedures available. "If it's an option," he says, "I certainly recommend cryosurgery for treatment. I see it as another step in the right direction for medicine—more exact, less invasive, and a shorter recovery period."
In addition to educating yourself, Richard advocates for boldness and decisiveness. "Cancer is a big, bad word for many people," he explains. "I found it best to move forward and decide on a treatment plan. Cancer is a battle that must be fought."