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Striking Out Prostate Cancer through Clinical Trials

When 61-year-old Carl Hays of Milledgeville, Ga., threw the first pitch at the Atlanta Braves game on June 20, he dedicated it to “the man who saved my life, Dr. Vasily Assikis.” Hays, who has prostate cancer, is participating in Piedmont Hospital’s clinical trial. The cancer has stopped and is reversing. Men with prostate cancer and their families celebrated “Prostate Cancer Awareness Day” at Turner Field, where the Braves played the Kansas City Royals.

Raising Public Awareness of Clinical Trials

The Piedmont Healthcare Research Institute (PHRI) works with physicians to provide research administrative support, including regulatory compliance, bioinformatics, financial and contracts management and grants administration.

PHRI and Piedmont Hospital have built an extensive oncology clinical research program. The menu of options for patients includes high priority NCI-funded research, as well as major clinical trials. One trial is sponsored by GACORE (Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education), a non-profit organization created by the tobacco settlement funds awarded to Georgia. “The GACORE vision is to raise public awareness of cancer clinical trials and make these trials available to more Georgians,” said Dr. Assikis. “Key to this goal has been bringing together academic and community oncologists to jointly design research that will meet the needs of Georgians afflicted with cancer.”

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004, Hays underwent a radical prostatectomy at Johns Hopkins University, followed by hormonal therapy injections of Lupron. But the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and then metastasized in his spine. He was in a lot of pain. Hays considered radiation therapy. Then his doctor recommended the prostate cancer clinical trial at Piedmont Hospital.

“Piedmont Hospital has been a prime destination for patients with advanced prostate cancer seeking groundbreaking clinical research,” said Assikis, M.D., a medical oncologist at Peachtree Hematology – Oncology Consultants, P.C. “We offer some of the most important and promising new agents, such as abiraterone and MDV-3100 These two experimental ‘designer’ drugs challenge the status quo to manage ‘hormone refractory’ prostate cancer.” Both agents, which are hormonal in nature, are given orally and produce minimal side effects. Piedmont Hospital has been one of the top five accruing sites in North America for the Phase III trials with these agents. Experts expect they will receive FDA approval within a year.”

Hays’ treatment consists of four pills a day and frequent scans and blood tests. He’s experienced no side effects. Within four months, his lymph node tumor shrunk by 50 percent and his PSA dropped from 74 to 6.  “A 90 percent drop in PSA is amazing and unusual, especially in such an advanced case of cancer,” said Dr. Assikis.

“I feel like a new man!” Hays said. “Dr. Assikis is intelligent and kind with a welcome sense of humor. We’ve become good friends. Absolutely everyone involved with my treatment at Piedmont is so professional and caring. They’re like family.”

“Sometimes when we propose that a patient participate in a clinical trial, they are concerned about being a ‘guinea pig,’” said Dr. Assikis. “ These trials follow strict federal guidelines. All the drugs we have on the market now—and many that the patients might be taking—were conceived in clinical trials. This is an opportunity for them to contribute to humanity.” Clinical trials for prostate cancer will continue throughout the end of the year. Piedmont Hospital is also seeking clinical trial patients for brain, breast, gastrointestinal, liver, lung, pancreatic, prostate, renal and skin cancers. You can learn more at www.piedmontcancerconnection.org.

Hays participates in a prostate cancer support group in Macon, Ga.  “My father died at 65 from prostate cancer. I tell men who have just been diagnosed that there is no reason to despair. There is more help now than there has ever been.”  He recommends the book, Surviving Prostate Cancer by Patrick Walsh, M.D., his surgeon at Johns Hopkins University.

Now that he’s feeling better, Hays, a retired jeweler, plans to travel to Europe and India with his wife, Leslie. He’ll also write about his experiences with prostate cancer. “I want to share what I went through and give hope to others.”

MDanderson cancer network certified member

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