Dr. Joseph Gifford had treated over 200 prostate cancer patients in his 44 years as a family practice doctor. Then, the tables turned.

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Dr. Joseph Gifford of Hermiston, Oregon, had treated over 200 prostate cancer patients and survivors in his 44 years as a family practice doctor. Then, last year when his blood test came back with an elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA), he discovered it was his time to be the patient. He had prostate cancer.

The tumor was caught relatively early – it had not spread beyond the prostate, and it was staged intermediate-risk in severity, with a Gleason score of 7 out of 10. After his diagnosis, Gifford met with a urologist who suggested surgery.

“He recommended a successful robotic surgery,” Gifford says. “He’d done 1700 of them and so I was scheduled for that, but then I started considering proton therapy. I’d recommended proton therapy to many patients in recent years because it’s noninvasive and has a good success rate.”

Gifford considered traveling down to his alma mater, Loma Linda University, in California, but was pleased to discover a proton center closer to his home in Oregon. So he made an appointment at SCCA Proton Therapy Center in Seattle.

It wasn’t long before Gifford was in Seattle meeting with Dr. Ramesh Rengan, the medical director of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Proton Therapy Center. Gifford was impressed by the favorable results of the program, as well as by the technology itself. The width and the depth of the proton beam can be controlled down to the millimeter. The accuracy of treatment delivery reduces the likelihood of damage to other tissue.

Furthermore, protons are different from the photons that are used in most traditional radiation centers. “Unlike photons, protons are charged particles,” Gifford says. “This allows the physician to control how far they penetrate into the body and calibrate the proton beam to stop precisely in the tumor. This concentrates the damage where it needs to be: within the cancer. I’d advise patients to discuss protons with a knowledgeable radiation oncologist.”

Gifford decided that proton therapy at SCCA was the best choice for him. He cancelled his surgery appointment in Portland and found a place to stay in Seattle. In the fall and winter of 2017, he received proton therapy each day for 44 days. During that time, he said he enjoyed meeting other doctors and patients.

Because Gifford’s tumor was intermediate-risk and had not spread, proton therapy ended up being the only form of treatment he needed. And it was effective, bringing his PSA numbers down from 8 to 0.34 in 6 months.

These days, Gifford, who recently retired, is feeling good and enjoying life. He spends time near The Columbia River and likes to watch the pelicans soar over the water. He thinks back on his time at SCCA Proton Therapy Center with appreciation. He hopes the word will get out about the program.

“The team at SCCA Proton Center is world class,” he says. “I’m very pleased they are here.”

SCCA Proton Therapy Center uses precisely targeted radiation to treat cancer while preserving surrounding healthy tissue and reducing the potential for side effects. Protons are beneficial in treating patients with a broad range of tumors, including brain, breast, lung and prostate.