Cancer survivor touts use of proton therapy

By Kathy Chang Staff Writer

Charles Piparo of North Brunswick received news last August that no one wants to hear. He was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of prostate cancer, which came as a surprise.

“I had no high blood pressure. … I was not aware what was going on,” said Piparo, 78.“My heart sank.”

“My primary physician, Dr. Harvey Weingarten, did the PSA (prostatespecific antigen) count test, which was at 6.0 for some time, but it had slowly inched up to 7.0,” he said, adding that his physician suggested calling a urologist.

Piparo, who lives in North Brunswick, followed the advice of his physician of 28 years, though the urologist did not seem alarmed at the moment, he said.

Another biopsy was done at the urging of his physician, and this time his PSA count had risen to 8.17 in a short amount of time, meaning he tested positive for prostate cancer.

“My heart sank,” Piparo said.“Although my urologist assured me that if I had to have cancer, prostate cancer was highly curable, I was not encouraged.”

Doctors caught the cancer early, but he was found to have four tumors.

Piparo did some research on treatments and weighed his options regarding standard intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and a radiation therapy that used protons instead of photons. He said IMRT would kill the cancer, but there was a chance the radiation would damage other organs.

Piparo found that a facility providing radiation that used protons was in Somerset. He set up an appointment at the ProCure Proton Therapy Center. Dr. Edward Soffen, a radiation oncologist, said proton therapy is a precise form of radiation that directly attacks tumors while minimizing radiation’s effect on surrounding healthy tissues and organs.

“Research indicates that proton therapy can be a highly effective treatment for prostate cancer, because proton beams have been shown to spare more healthy tissue than other forms of radiation therapy,” he said.“Studies have shown proton therapy to be effective in treating prostate, brain, head and neck, central nervous system, lung, spinal cord, pediatric, breast and gastrointestinal system tumors, as well as cancers that cannot be removed completely by surgery.”

Soffen further stated that for certain patients, especially those with solid tumors surrounded by sensitive tissue and vital organs, proton therapy is often the treatment of choice.

“Because it is so targeted, proton therapy can be particularly effective in treating children, who are more sensitive than adults to the effects of radiation,” he said.

Piparo said all the information sounded good, but he also looked at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for another opinion. He said he learned that the center sends many of its patients to ProCure.

“I was convinced that this was the way to go for me,” he said.

Piparo underwent a series of tests in October 2013.

He said the doctors and staff at ProCure design treatment for individual patients. He started his series of 44 treatments in January and received treatments for 10 to 12 minutes each day.

He said the treatments were “harmless” and that Dr. Oren Cahlon and the staff made him feel comfortable.

“I work within 10 minutes of the facility, and I met people from around the world who come for these treatments,” he said.“It’s unbelievable. … Of course, I was anxious at first, but after going every day and getting to know everybody, it became an easy experience.”

Piparo’s treatments ended on March 17.

He said he is now cancer free.

Piparo said his employer, Mariano Press in

Somerset, provided great support. He has been a printing salesman for 19 years.

“I was very fortunate that they were very accommodating,” he said.

Piparo has been married for 57 years. He has three daughters and six grandchildren.