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More precise radiation therapy lets prostate cancer patients avoid erectile dysfunction

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center are using innovative planning techniques to help men with prostate cancer avoid erectile dysfunction after radiation treatment.

By using MRI scans in addition to CT scans, radiation oncologists can identify the blood vessels that control erectile function and plan treatment to target the prostate more precisely, sparing those nearby vessels. Results from an initial study with 25 patients appear in the January issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics.

Some 230,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004. While it's more common in older men, a growing number of men are being diagnosed in their 50s.

"As we treat younger men, erectile function is an important concern. We're often treating men in their 50s, and this is a very important issue for them. Most of the men I see are going to be cured. Once you start curing cancers at an extremely high rate, then the focus moves to quality of life," says Patrick W. McLaughlin, M.D., clinical professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School and director of Providence Hospital Radiation Oncology, with cancer centers in Southfield and Novi, both affiliated with the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Treatment for prostate cancer can involve surgery to remove the prostate or radiation therapy. During surgery, the nerves that control erectile function may be severed which has led to new surgical techniques to avoid cutting those nerves.

But doctors are less sure what causes erectile dysfunction after radiation therapy. Erectile dysfunction among men without prostate cancer is most commonly caused by a problem in the blood vessels, and doctors do know that radiation causes obstruction of the vessels that fall within the treatment area. Using that as a starting point, the U-M team began investigating radiation-related erectile dysfun
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