News 6 gets look at ultrasound procedure used to treat prostate cancer

High intensity focused ultrasound, known as HIFU lowers risk of side effect

ORLANDO, Fla. – Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men.  However treating it can lead to unwanted side effects, which is what Walt Parks wanted to avoid.

"I knew that I had to find something that would not put me down and keep me bringing in an income," he said.

Parks is a massage therapist and fitness instructor.  When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he knew traditional treatments like surgery and radiation were not for him.

Parks opted for a treatment called High intensity focused ultrasound, also known as HIFU.  It was approved in the United States two years ago and for that reason, it's still relatively unknown.

Dr. Tracy Gapin is one of the few urologists in the state who does it.  "HIFU is an excellent cancer treatment," he said.

Gapin gave News 6's Louis Bolden a rare look inside the operating room, as he performed the procedure.
The treatment is basically done with a probe and a computer. One of the benefits of HIFU is it can treat the entire prostate, or just a section if the cancer is isolated, which means in some cases prostate function is preserved.

A computer monitor shows the prostate on screen and Gapin sections the prostate into zones, and red dots represent a treatment area.

Then Gapin fires ultrasound energy into the area.  He describes it as "cooking" the prostate and cancer.  "Think of a microwave or think of generating high levels of heat," he said. "The prostate goes from what you might think of as a grape to a raisin."

HIFU significantly lowers the chance of erectile dysfunction and incontinence, the two major side effects of traditional treatments, according to Gapin.

"It's an option to consider,"Gapin said.  "It's not for everyone.  Some guys can't afford it.  Some cancers are not necessarily appropriate for HIFU, but it's a great treatment that should at least be on the table for most men."

Parks said he was back on his feet shortly after the procedure.

"I had the procedure and the next day I was on the treadmill walking," he said.

There is a downside--the cost.

HIFU costs about $25,000 dollars and because it was only recently approved by the FDA, It is still not covered by insurance.

Dr. Gapin estimates it will probably take between 3-5 years before insurance covers it.

You can find more info about Dr. Gapin and HIFU, here

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.