New high-tech scan helps former SoCal firefighter extinguish prostate cancer in its earliest stages

Compared to other techniques, the new imaging method called PSMA PET scan can detect cancer in its earliest stages.

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Thursday, September 22, 2022 12:22PM
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Compared to other techniques, the new imaging method called PSMA PET scan can detect cancer in its earliest stages.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- New technology that's allowing doctors to pinpoint prostate cancer long before it becomes a threat is now widely available.

A former firefighter mentioned how this new imaging technique helped him extinguish prostate cancer before it spread.

"I think firefighters tend to be aggressive," said retired Colton Fire Chief Thomas Hendrix.

Eight years ago, doctors diagnosed him with prostate cancer and he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

"Initially, it was just surgery, and the surgery went quite well and it looked like things were fine," Hendrix said.

Things were fine until six months later when Hendrix's prostate-specific antigen levels started to rise again. The next plan of attack was 35 rounds of proton radiation therapy.

The radiation therapy seemed to work and Hendrix thought he had beaten his cancer until a few years later.

"His PSA was going up to suggest that there was more prostate cancer," said his urologist Dr. Herbert Ruckle with Loma Linda Health University.

The cancer was back and Ruckle wanted a more precise picture to know where it was.

"If you can localize the cancer many times, you can do a more specific treatment that is easier on the patient," he said.

Hendrix was one of the first patients to test a new imaging method called a PSMA PET scan.

Compared to other techniques, it can detect cancer in its earliest stages.

"Many months earlier. We're talking months and in some patients, even it can be as much as a year or more earlier," Ruckle said.

PSMA, or prostate specific membrane antigen, only attaches to prostate cancer. A radiotracer binds to PSMA revealing malignant cells. Through positron emission tomography or PET scan, doctors can see traces of cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the technology in late 2020. The scan found the return of a pea-sized tumor in Hendrix' abdomen.

Doctors easily took it out.

"After the removal of that nodule, my PSA dropped down to undetectable," said Hendrix.

For now, PSMA PET scans are used for patients like Hendrix, patients looking for the earliest signs of recurrence. In the future, Ruckle predicts it may be used for the targeted treatment of prostate cancer.

"You attach a therapeutic molecule and send it to the prostate cancer to actually attack the prostate cancer in that way," he said.

Getting in front of fires before they spread is what Hendrix has dedicated his life to and it's exactly the advice he gives to other men.

"There's no reason to wait until it gets more serious. Let's catch it at an early stage so it can be treated," Hendrix said.