Trained in the martial arts and holding a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo, Tustin, CA native Jeff Nelson knows how to make the right moves at the right time to block an attack.
So when prostate cancer threatened his health, Nelson perfectly positioned himself to defend against it by moving to the front lines of an innovative medical procedure.
In February of this year, Nelson became the first patient at UCI Health in Irvine to undergo a procedure using Focal One high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) – considered to be the most advanced form of HIFU technology world-wide. While more than 45,000 men around the world have received standard HIFU treatments – including hundreds in the U.S. – UCI Health is the first medical center in the country to offer the breakthrough Focal One HIFU procedure to patients diagnosed with localized prostate cancer.
Edward M. Uchio, MD, Director of Urologic Oncology at UCI Health who treated Nelson likens the Focal One procedure to a lumpectomy where surgeons remove only the breast cancer tumor and not the entire breast – because the precision of this advanced type of HIFU technology enables urologists to preserve more of the prostate gland.
“Focal One HIFU allows for incredibly accurate targeting in the removal of unhealthy prostate cancer tissue while sparing the healthy tissue of the prostate,” Uchio said. “Since we can avoid damaging the structure of the prostate, patients experience fewer side effects such as incontinence and impotence.”
Focal One HIFU works by fusing high-resolution magnetic resonance images (MRIs) with biopsy data and real-time ultrasound images – a unique collaboration between radiology, pathology and urology. Urologists can view these integrated, detailed 3D images of the prostate on a large monitor, then draw exact contours around the diseased tissue and ablate only that portion of the prostate.
Nelson, 65, is a retired commercial banker who qualified for the HIFU procedure because his cancer was localized, meaning it had affected only a portion of the prostate gland. He also benefitted from being diligent about his health and taking blood tests to check his PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels, which doctors use to assess the risk of prostate cancer.
Nelson’s motivation to monitor his PSA stemmed, in part, from his family’s health history. “My brother and uncle both had prostate cancer so I was tracking my PSA scores for years and it was starting to elevate up to level 5,” Nelson recalled.
He and his brother Jon hike about 12 miles each week. It seemed natural, then, for Nelson to follow in his sibling’s footsteps to UCI Health where his brother had undergone robotically controlled prostatectomy in 2013.
“By doing research online, I found Dr. Uchio at UCI Health and given my family’s history and my PSA score, he recommended an MRI and biopsy to establish the prostate cancer diagnosis,” Nelson said. “It’s a bit of a shock when you’re told you have cancer,” Nelson said. “But knowing my family history made getting the diagnosis a logical conclusion.”
After confirming that diagnosis, Dr. Uchio explained various treatment options such as traditional prostatectomy and radiation as well as the newer modalities like cryotherapy and HIFU. To learn more about his options, Nelson read Prostate for Dummies and also watched You Tube videos about treatments before settling on the HIFU procedure. Though diagnosed at age 64, Nelson waited until he turned 65 in order to get partial coverage for the HIFU procedure through Medicare.
“Robotically controlled surgery is far superior to what it used to be but there’s still a risk of side effects like incontinence and impotence. And radiation required several sessions a week for three months,” Nelson said. “HIFU was minimally invasive and there was far less risk of side effects compared to the other treatments. Using a device without penetrating the skin is miraculous! HIFU is a miracle!”
The only downside to the outpatient treatment for Nelson was the need for a catheter for several days after the HIFU procedure. But he was back to his usual exercise routine within a week – although he did have to go easy on weight lifting and Taekwondo maneuvers for a short while.
Because of his experience, Nelson encourages other men to overcome their resistance to checking PSA levels or getting a digital rectal exam. “Prostate cancer is such an easily remedied cancer if you catch it early. If someone is afraid of getting tested and the cancer metastasizes, then they’re really in trouble. Don’t be shy. Get tested!”