Herb Hoover is getting to the point in his life where he is very interested in longevity.
Hoover was diagnosed with prostate cancer 10 years ago. When the 74-year-old rural Marion resident was told by his oncologist about a new treatment that could ease his pain and possibly extend his life, Hoover was on board.
This past Friday, Hoover received his first injection of Radium 223, a new drug that emits radioactive particles, at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's Hospital.
Radium 223 was approved by the Food and Drug Administration just this past May after a successful clinical trial. It is most appropriate for men with prostate cancer whose disease has spread to the bone but not to other organs, according to St. Luke's.
At University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic, Radium 223 has been used mostly by medical oncologists for castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with bone metastases, according to Tom Moore, director of media relations. Moore said six patients are now being treated.
Radium 223 is injected into the vein and collects in the bone. The radiation kills the cancer cells and reduces pain.
This new type of radiation is an alpha emitter, explained Thomas Warren, an oncologist at the Physicians' Clinic of Iowa. Using an alpha emitter instead of gamma rays means the patient does not have to be "holed up" for a few days after treatment, he said.
"Alpha rays are different and they're probably safer. You don't need as much shielding," Warren said.
Patients "don't need to protect themselves. If you get a radioactive iodine pill, you basically have to hole yourself up for four days."
The drug, which mimics calcium, is important because it helps patients live longer, Warren said. The treatment is easy to administer and well tolerated, he added.
A name brand version of radium 223 dichloride, Xofigo, is listed at $69,000 for a course of six injections. That product is co-promoted by Bayer and Algeta US LLC.
Hoover said on Tuesday he has not seen any side effects since he received his first treatment on Friday.
Most insurance companies cover the treatment, Warren said.
"Since 2004, there have been two different chemotherapy treatments, two different hormone pills, a vaccine and now radium that have all been shown to make patients with 'spread' prostate cancer live longer," Warren said."We've gone from where there was no treatments for this patient population in 2004 to six or seven."