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One in every seven men in the United States will get prostate cancer, making it the second most common type, after skin cancer, for American men. It tends to be a slow-growing disease, but can sprint to life-threatening severity if detected too late. Screening for prostate cancer can yield false-positive findings, but those most at risk for the disease—men whose father or a brother had prostate cancer, African American men, overweight men, and those in their 60s and 70s who are in good health and could expect years more of life—still should ask their doctors whether screening makes sense for them.
That information comes from the just-launched website of the Shipley Prostate Cancer Research Center at the School of Medicine. Created with a $10.5 million gift from BU trustee Richard Shipley (Questrom’68,’72), the center’s labs will be in the Conte Building on the Medical Campus when it opens. The center’s research will be focused on finding genomic approaches to determine which prostate cancers are aggressive and need treatment, and which can simply be monitored.
The center’s website and its Facebook page and Twitter account are up and running now, offering easy-to-follow, impartial information on practically everything anyone needs to know about prostate cancer. There’s “Prostate 101,” an overview about the prostate, information about prostate cancer and getting a second opinion, and a checklist of symptoms; information on screening; treatment options; and the state of research.
This knowledge is available to patients everywhere, “irrespective of where they choose to get their medical care or where they are in terms of testing, diagnosis, or treatment,” says site editor Gretchen Gignac, a School of Medicine associate professor of hematology and medical oncology.
For its founding donor, the center is as much a beacon of information to patients as an incubator for medical research. Shipley was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014 and chose focal laser ablation, a new and less invasive treatment than surgery and other therapies.
“The website will be unique in that it will provide up-to-date information, both on diagnostic and treatment options, in a form the layman can easily understand,” Shipley says.
That the information is unbiased “is huge,” he adds. “What usually gets recommended to a patient is based on the doctor’s specialty—if urologist, then prostatectomy; if he is a radiologist, then radiation.” Anticipated monthly articles on the site will cover new developments, including controversial diagnostic approaches and treatments, intended to “stimulate people to think.”
The government projects that prostate cancer will kill almost 27,000 Americans this year.
The more than 100,000 patients who elect a prostatectomy annually to beat the disease often suffer erectile dysfunction and incontinence. Every decision, from whether to be screened at all for the disease to which treatment is best (many patients who forego a prostatectomy opt instead for radiation), “may be very confusing to patients and their caregivers,” Gignac says. “There are many controversies in the prostate cancer field,” such as whether to be screened, “and every patient is different.…It can be very overwhelming and challenging to navigate all the options.”
So the Shipley prostate site is crafted in jargon-free English, “with the hope that the information helps patients have a better understanding of their situation and options for the next step in their care, and are more comfortable communicating with the teams of doctors and other medical staff helping them through the process,” says Gignac, who also heads ambulatory medical care for hematology and oncology at Boston Medical Center, MED’s teaching hospital.
“This site discusses testing and treatment therapies that are evolving or are up-and-coming,” she says, ones that “may not yet be part of the standard treatment plan, but may be available in specialized institutions or as part of a clinical trial.”
“We are excited as we implement the plans for the new center and thank Dick Shipley for his generosity and vision,” says Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus. “We want this website to be a go-to consumer resource for prostate health and support for patients and their families.”
This BU Today story was written by Rich Barlow