Proton Therapy at Scripps Helps Keep Track Star in Fast Lane 4/2/15

Six months after completing a unique form of radiation therapy for prostate cancer, USA Track and Field Hall of Famer Steve Scott is running strong as he enters the spring 2015 season as head coach of the track and field program at California State University, San Marcos.

The three-time United States Olympic runner was treated last fall at the Scripps Proton Therapy Center in San Diego. He completed his treatments with no side effects and without missing a beat in coaching CSUSM’s fall 2014 cross country season.

Scott’s recent follow-up exams have shown that his treatments have been successful. He will continue to be monitored on an ongoing basis.

Sensitive tumor location

The Carlsbad resident said his tumor’s location near a nerve bundle that controls his bowel and sexual functions presented serious concerns. Scott opted against surgery, because doctors would need a “safety margin” around the tumor’s perimeter, which would disrupt the nerve bundle and severely hinder his quality of life.

Scott said he also decided against conventional X-ray radiation therapy – the only other treatment proposed to him by a health system outside of Scripps – in part because of the nausea and fatigue it often causes. But perhaps more disconcerting was a poor family experience with X-rays. Scott’s father passed away from complications associated with X-ray radiation used to treat his prostate cancer.

“The likely side effects involved in my case were unacceptable to me, so I began to look around to see if there were other options,” said Scott, who held the U.S. record time for the mile distance run for more than 26 years. “I was encouraged when I learned about proton therapy, which nobody had told me about. The more I read and spoke with others who had been treated with protons, the more I knew it was right for me.”

Proton therapy is a form of external beam radiation treatment that kills cancer cells while preserving healthy surrounding tissue. Conventional radiation treatments use X-rays, which penetrate into normal tissue around the tumor and increase the probability of side effects and secondary cancers. But a proton beam can be controlled to stop where the tumor stops.

Going public to raise awareness

Scott said he decided to first publicly share his story last fall to help raise awareness about the importance of early detection and the availability of proton therapy because he feels others could potentially benefit.

After his first consultation at the Scripps Proton Therapy Center, Scott was impressed with both the advanced technology and the experienced medical staff. His treating physician, Carl Rossi, M.D., has treated more than 9,000 prostate cancer patients with proton therapy, which is more than any other physician in the world.

Active during treatments

Scott said he was able to maintain an active lifestyle during treatments, which included coaching CSUSM’s cross country teams, running three to five miles a day, spending quality time with family and making public speaking engagements. He has helped establish Cal State San Marcos as one of the most successful running programs in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), including three national titles.

A strong outlook

According to Dr. Rossi, Scott began his treatments with an intermediate-risk tumor. The goal of his proton therapy is to eradicate the tumor, resulting in a cure. Dr. Rossi said Scott’s prognosis is good to excellent, though he will require years of follow-up visits for monitoring.

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of proton therapy in treating many cancers, including prostate cancer. A 2014 survey found that 97 percent of prostate cancer patients who received only proton therapy have not experienced a recurrence. This study included nearly 4,000 patients from across the United States. Earlier, a study led by MD Anderson Cancer Center found that proton therapy preserves quality of life, specifically urinary and bowel function.

Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, behind only lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 27,000 prostate cancer deaths are expected in the United States in 2015.

The Scripps Proton Therapy Center uses pencil-beam scanning, the latest advancement in proton therapy. Pencil-beam scanning sweeps a narrow proton beam across the tumor in fine strokes, building up the dose layer by layer. The result is a dose of cancer-killing radiation that conforms precisely to the unique shape of the tumor. 

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