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Dr. Arthur Burnett On Erectile Dysfunction + Cancer Treatment

Dr. Arthur Burnett is the Director of both the Basic Science Laboratory in Neurourology and the Sexual Medicine Fellowship Program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about erectile dysfunction (ED) and prostate cancer treatments.

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Why did you become a doctor?

Dr. Arthur Burnett: I was inspired by seeing other individuals through either the media or just personal contacts who were physicians at the time. I was a young man, perhaps in my teenage years, when I was inspired by the impact the profession allowed a physician to have on people’s lives. I sensed that I had a talent for that sort of thing and certainly had an aptitude for science and medicine as the years went on. That was the groundwork for my continuing on to do the appropriate academic training to become a physician.

Have you ever had any particular patients whose cases changed how you see yourself as a doctor or how you approach the art of medicine?

Dr. Burnett: I think patients, in general, have been reinforcing in many respects. There are certainly patients whose case stories inspire you by their humanness and just by the fact that they connect with you as a person and show compassion and caring themselves. That is what has been inspirational about being a physician.

How common is ED after prostate cancer?

Dr. Burnett: Prostate cancer in and of itself is not necessarily connected with ED; it’s more the treatments unless the cancer really is at a more advanced stage. Advanced prostate cancer can have either local effects because of cancer progression on structures of the pelvis or systemic effects—that is, it progresses and then weakens the person’s body.

Treatments that reflect either local treatments or more systemic, or body-wide, treatments can have a negative impact on one’s sexual function, including erectile physiology or erectile functions. Local treatments include surgery and radiation as conventional interventions. More systemic therapies include various kinds of hormone suppressive agents, or even chemotherapies, that can adversely affect the physiology of the erection and impact how nerves, blood vessels, and hormones interact to bring about an erection response.

Are there any steps a man can take before he starts treatment that might help prevent problems after?

Dr. Burnett: I certainly believe that’s so. I think patients need to be informed about the factors that can adversely affect erectile function. I think patients assume all too often that the physician is responsible for their best health. But patients also need to recognize that their best health status is also key to retaining function in the face of any treatments we can bring.

Being healthier and physically fit— not out of shape, not overweight, not a cigarette smoker—can increase your likelihood of preserving better health in the face of our treatments. Those patients who do not observe these kinds of health habits are setting themselves up to have less reserve function in the face of our treatments.

Not just in terms of ED, but in terms of general recovery?

Dr. Burnett: Absolutely. Even more specifically, because we’re talking about erectile function, those patients who are out of shape, who are smokers, who have adverse health conditions that they may not have control over, are not helping themselves with regard to their erection function as well as to their overall body health.

What could you say to a man who brings up the subject of ED with his doctor and finds that the conversation isn’t as in-depth as he would like? What do you suggest he do? See another doctor? See a specialist in ED?

Dr. Burnett: I think that’s an all-too-often scenario, that sometimes the care provider is neglectful about some of the basic aspects of a person’s health status. As the care provider himself is certainly attentive to his own sexual function, he should be aware of that for the patient. All too often, that’s not done. My advice would be to tell the patient that he should go ahead and be assertive or proactive about asking about these sorts of things and really inquire.

An informed patient, perhaps with this kind of communication I’m sharing, will be empowered to communicate that this is important to him. While he is seeking the best intervention for his cancer management, all aspects need to be put on the table for discussion. Ask that care provider to help address these things. If that care provider is not able to address it, ask him who else can be of service, as part of the care team perhaps, to address these problems or potential problems as they may arise expectedly with interventions.

What treatments are available for men suffering from ED after prostate cancer treatment? Are there some treatments that are more effective after surgery or radiation or hormonal therapy?

Dr. Burnett: We have a host of treatments that are available and can be offered for managing ED in this scenario, as much as for any presentation of ED in our modern times. We’re certainly much better in terms of what we can offer medically than where we were a generation ago, but we still have interventions that largely are addressing the symptom presentation of erection dysfunction; they don’t necessarily correct the erection disorders. They treat the symptomatic presentation of a man saying, “I cannot get an erection, and what do you have to offer?” These interventions, more or less, are used on demand to help him achieve an erection response when needed.

These therapies range from the oral medications that are very effective and are FDA approved, to semi-intrusive interventions brought to the genital area in the form of penile injection therapy or vacuum erection device therapy. We also have penile prosthesis surgery, which obviously is much more invasive. Some patients either prefer this approach or they find that the other options are just ineffective or contraindicated.

We have to understand the patient’s case, his preferences, and the severity of his ED. Certain men who’ve had prostate cancer treatments may have more severe erection dysfunction and may not respond well to oral therapies such as Viagra (sildenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil). That patient may be inclined to move forward with some of these somewhat more intrusive, or even invasive, surgical options if needed.

Do you have any advice for men who either are worried about ED before treatment or who are already suffering from ED after treatment?

Dr. Burnett: The sobering truth is that some of the interventions for managing prostate cancer can have adverse effects on your sexual function. At the same time, understand that we have interventions to address ED. Fear of losing one’s erections hopefully should not lead one to avoid proper treatment.

As one patient quipped to me once in the past: “The ultimate form of ED is death.” Not addressing your cancer and not being around for your loved ones is certainly not the best option to pursue. You have to be attentive to addressing your disease but also recognize that we can address your ED or other sexual dysfunctions. Know that these interventions can be sought amidst the treatment for the prostate cancer.

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Advanced Imaging + Prostate Cancer

Dr. Phillip Koo is Division Chief of Diagnostic Imaging at the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about advanced imaging + recurrent prostate cancer.

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Do you have any advice for men considering advanced imaging for prostate cancer?

Dr. Koo: We’ve been talking about better imaging tools for prostate cancer for years. When it comes to other cancers, we moved forward a great deal when FDG PET/CT became available. With prostate cancer, we’ve been stuck with CT and bone scans since the 1970s. They’re great tools. I don’t want to devalue what they’ve done for our patients since then, but we knew we could do better. Urologists and oncologists knew patients had metastatic disease, but our imaging tools limited detection.

We have new tools available to us in 2018. There is no question that costs are going to be higher, but that shouldn’t stop us from exploring and pushing the envelope. The whole purpose is to improve overall survival and treatment for our patients. An ounce of diagnosis could be a pound of cure. If we could identify disease sooner, identify the right patient for these exams, and use them at the right time, then we could probably create treatment plans more appropriate for patients with better outcomes. It’s something that I firmly believe. There is so much potential here.

When radiology is practiced in a vacuum, it’s not as powerful as when it’s integrated into patient histories and treatment plans. Radiology is a very powerful tool. But we often think of it as a commodity, something that does not have any distinguishing value. That is a huge under-estimation of radiology.

When performed correctly in a multidisciplinary setting, with access to the medical record and physicians who are taking care of the patient, radiology unlocks information that can really impact care for patients with prostate cancer. And we are currently only scratching the surface. This will change as analytic tools continue to analyze bigger data sets that include imaging and clinical data. If a urologist determines that their patient needs imaging, they’re going to write a request for imaging that describes what type of test they want and why they need it.

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Patients often go to the closest facility. Convenience is important, but when it comes to certain tests or exams, I urge patients to seek out subspecialized radiology experts and facilities with the experience and expertise in the performance and


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Robotic Prostate Cancer Surgery After Focal Therapy

Dr. Paul Cathcart is a consultant urological surgeon at Guy’s Hospital and St. Thomas’ Hospital in London.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about a clinical trial he’s running that looks at robotic surgery in men whose prostate cancers have come back after focal therapy.

Why did you become a doctor?

Dr. Paul Cathcart: I always liked science; that was my favorite subject. I was thinking about whether to become a vet or a doctor and did lots of school visits. During one of those visits, I met an inspirational character, a surgeon. I spent some time with him, following him around hospital wards and clinics. I thought that he was the sort of person I would like to be: he does the job I’d like to do. I think that’s often the case in life: you meet some inspirational figure who pushes you along one line.

Later on, another inspirational figure who came into my life was a urologist. I was originally going to be a colorectal surgeon. Everything was set for that. Then I met this urologist who showed me the different mix there is in urology, which I found interesting. Then I met Dr. Mark Emberton; I was his research fellow for many years. He’s quite an inspirational person as well. I’ve been working with him for 17 years now on various things.

What is the thinking behind your trial on robotic surgery after focal ablation?

Dr. Cathcart: Focal therapy is a new concept, which Dr. Emberton and one or two other people have pioneered to reduce the side effects and morbidity of prostate cancer treatment. Unfortunately, a proportion of these patients will experience recurrent disease after focal therapy. No cancer treatment is 100% effective. A couple of these focal therapy patients were recurring three or four years after starting the focal therapy program.

No urologist wanted to operate on these patients because they felt that it would be an extremely difficult surgery. In fact, urologists were only offering exenterations to remove the patients’ prostate, bladder, etc.

I got to know quite a few of these patients. (I do a lot of post-radiotherapy surgery, as well.) I decided that this procedure called salvage surgery interested me. We thought that we could do this salvage surgery and maintain good outcomes for our patients because only part of their prostate had been treated during focal therapy. We thought that the side effects of the surgery after focal therapy would actually be a lot less than after radiation, but we needed evidence to prove it. That is why we set up the trial.

We’re also interested in learning why some patients may fail focal therapy. What is it about their disease that leads it to recur? If we can understand why some patients may fail focal therapy, this can help us select up front which patients should have focal therapy and which should not.

What can patients expect to happen during the trial?

Dr. Cathcart: We are halfway through the study at the moment.

Of course, patients undergo a salvage prostatectomy. We take the tissue to be analyzed and look for various genetic markers to see why their cancer may have returned.

This is also a toxicity and side effect study. We have patient-reported outcome measures at baseline and sequentially thereafter. There are a number of blood tests looking at hormone profiles before and after the surgery.

We follow patients for about 12 months after those sequential patient-reported outcome measures; we’re looking to chart that toxicity.

I’ve taken out more prostates after focal therapy than most because of my link with Dr. Emberton. We’re now demonstrating the feasibility and toxicity of salvage focal surgery and trying to understand why these tumors have recurred.

Are you still recruiting patients?

Dr. Cathcart: About 20 patients have undergone the surgery. We’re recruiting 20 more. We haven’t had any adverse events. We were worried about things like rectal injuries, because the rectum can stick to the prostate after focal therapy. We haven’t had any of those.

We’ve actually had a fantastic continence outcome. The prostate cancer community said everyone would be incontinent and impotent, but all our patients so far have been continent.

We’ve got the patient-reported outcome measures to demonstrate it.

The potency rates are taking a little bit longer to return to baseline. The outcomes from potency won’t be as good as the continence outcomes. We haven’t had any side effects at the time of surgery. No complications or anything, so we’re delighted with the way things have gone.

Does the fact that the man has had focal therapy make the potency issues worse?

Dr. Cathcart: It depends on the location of their focal treatment. In those with anterior tumors (tumors away from the neurovascular bundles), we’ve noticed potency returns faster. If they’ve had an ablation on the peripheral zone, near where one of the nerve bundles is located, potency returns more slowly.

We’re also noticing a difference between different treatments. You can give focal therapy with high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), cryotherapy, or something called electroporation. The different energy sources have different effects on the structures surrounding the prostate and a different impact on the chance of potency returning. Electroporation seems to be very precise and leaves the least amount of collateral damage. In those patients, potency returns faster. Cryotherapy creates more periprostatic fibrosis and scarring; potency takes slightly longer for those patients to return. Potency return for HIFU patients falls somewhere in the middle of the modalities.

I’ve also taken out prostates after photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapy is better relative to preserving the tissue planes, but it does depend on which part of the prostate has been ablated in the first place.

Is there anything else you think patients should know about your trial?

Dr. Cathcart: We’re going to get a great understanding of why these patients in particular failed focal therapy. The genetic markers and the locations of the tumors will inform which patients are suitable for focal therapy from the beginning. There may be parts of the prostate, or particular types of tumors or genetic markers, which will identify patients best suited to a whole-gland approach such as a radical prostatectomy up front.

It’s not just about the location and grade of the tumor, but also about the tumor’s genetic signature, which may predispose a particular tumor to being better suited for focal therapy.

It’s interesting, in some patients you knock out one tumor say on the right-hand side and that’s it, the tumor never comes back. Other patients’ prostates seem somewhat unstable and have multiple tumors that keep appearing throughout the prostate. I’m sure there is a genetic basis to it.

Because we’re taking out these patients’ prostates, we can analyze all the different tumors. Some people even think that by treating part of the prostate we may be changing the genetics of that tumor—i.e., it gets angrier. I don’t think that’s the case. This study will help prove that point. We’re also going to open up a comparative arm of the study very soon for patients who have had whole-gland radiation or ablation techniques—open to anyone who has had the whole of their prostate treated with brachytherapy, radiotherapy, HIFU, or cryotherapy. We’ve been finding that patients who have had surgery following focal therapy have better outcomes than those who have had whole-gland therapy up front. We’re going to recruit into that second arm to demonstrate that surgery after focal therapy has a better outcome.

Can non-UK residents come to you for surgery?

I’ve got a clinic called the Recurrent Prostate Cancer Clinic. I have a reasonable number of patients who come from the United States. They normally come to Dr. Emberton for focal therapy, then if they develop recurrent disease, I operate on them. A lot of urologists wouldn’t operate on these patients. Certainly, in the United States, hardly anyone operates on post HIFU patients simply because HIFU has not been available until very recently.

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Focal Therapy + Prostate Cancer

Dr. Charles “Snuffy” Myers offers his comments on our November issue on focal therapy for prostate cancer:

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Last month we reviewed the impact of new tools like imaging on treatment choices for newly diagnosed men. We discussed how improved imaging impacts planning of both radiation therapy and surgery, as well as the role imaging plays in active surveillance in terms of patient selection and monitoring. .

This issue is a logical extension of those conversations as we look at focal therapy treatment options based on those imaging tools. The renaissance of focal therapy is due to MRI, which has the ability to visualize cancer within the prostate gland with much greater precision than older techniques.

Focal treatment makes sense when the cancer is of limited extent, usually limited to a single major lesion on one side of the prostate. If the cancer is truly limited to only part of the gland, it may not be necessary to destroy the whole prostate. The hope is that focal therapy will have less impact on sexual function and urination than radical prostatectomy or radiation therapy to the whole gland. A frequently used analogy is a lumpectomy versus mastectomy for breast cancer.

As you read the interviews, there are a number of issues to keep in mind. With radical prostatectomy and radiation therapy, we know in detail the odds of long-term cancer control. This information is lacking for the various forms of focal therapy. One reason that cancer control might be less complete after focal therapy is that focal therapies largely depend on the ability of the MRI to identify patients with cancer limited to one area of the prostate gland. But, as we learned last month, the MRI is not a perfect tool and can miss small, aggressive cancers. Also, first-rate MRI facilities with well-trained radiologists are limited in number.

As a medical oncologist, I have recently had to deal with a particularly difficult situation. With the arrival of new, highly sensitive imaging for metastatic disease, such as the C-11 Acetate, fluciclovine F 18, and PSMA PET/CT scans, I am seeing a growing number of patients who have had radiation therapy and the only detectable recurrent cancer is in the prostate gland. Focal therapy in this setting is difficult because of radiation damage to surrounding normal tissue as well as dense scar formation within the gland. Several interviews touch on treatment options for this situation, but those options are far from ideal. It is unclear what the right path is for these men.

Subscribe! Don’t miss our focal therapy issue when it debuts next Wednesday.