New York City dentist Gregory Page had seen several friends suffer troubling side effects after surgery for prostate cancer. When he was diagnosed with the disease himself, he sought out a less-invasive option. He found it with MSK surgeon Jonathan Coleman, who performs a procedure called vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy. Gregory quickly returned to life as normal.
- Gregory Page was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer by his local doctor in April 2017.
- He was familiar with Memorial Sloan Kettering and already knew it was the right place for his cancer care. After researching online, he found MSK prostate surgeon Jonathan Coleman.
- Dr. Coleman is an expert in vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy, a less-invasive option that can spare men from unwanted side effects.
- Gregory had the procedure in October 2017 with Dr. Coleman and is now cancer free and back to living a full life.
As a dentist, Gregory Page knew the importance of staying on top of his health. He had prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests, which measure for a protein in the blood that is elevated in men with prostate cancer, as part of his regular routine. When his PSA came back abnormally high in 2007, he made sure to see his doctor each year to more closely monitor his level.
In April 2017, his doctor saw that Gregory’s PSA had risen high enough to warrant a biopsy. The test came back positive for cancer. The news was understandably difficult for Gregory to take in — even more so because it came on top of what had been a challenging year so far. His godmother, best friend, and brother had all recently died.
“It was not a good year for me,” recalls the 68-year-old, who lives in Harlem in New York City. “I said, ‘God, you’re giving me a lot to handle here.’ ”
Gregory was already under the care of a urologist, but hearing that he had cancer made him reconsider where he wanted to go for treatment. He remembered the times he had escorted one of his good friends, a lung cancer survivor, to MSK’s Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion.
“The whole ambience they created was just outstanding,” he says. “I always felt that if I ever had a diagnosis of cancer, I would not walk but run to MSK. And that’s exactly what I did.”
Before calling MSK’s Patient Access Service, which schedules first appointments for people coming to MSK, Gregory researched urologists online. When he saw a YouTube video of MSK urologic surgeon Jonathan Coleman, he knew he had found the doctor he wanted to see.
Gregory recalls, “Dr. Coleman discussed the various treatments for prostate cancer, and he also used the word ‘cure,’ ” which is possible for many men with prostate cancer. “That’s a good word to hear when you have cancer,” he adds.
Another point in the video that really resonated with Gregory was when Dr. Coleman said that the procedures he does have minimal side effects. “I had friends who had their prostates taken out, and it took them years to recover,” Gregory says. “One of my friends had incontinence problems for a year. I have another friend who had to have a pump put in. I didn’t want all of that.”
Finding a Less-Invasive Treatment Option
In June 2017, Gregory and his fiancée, Cynthia, met Dr. Coleman and his nurse, Connie Estes. Dr. Coleman remembers how impressed he was with Gregory’s knowledge of his circumstance.
“He had definitely done his homework,” Dr. Coleman says. “He was extremely intelligent and well informed. He was thoughtful, inquisitive, and concerned about his cancer while also being concerned about treating it too aggressively.”
Ms. Estes was equally taken by the couple. “They are both the nicest people, and every interaction we had was a delight,” she says. “It was obvious that they had researched prostate cancer and treatment.”
She told Gregory and Cynthia that Dr. Coleman was doing promising research with vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy. This form of prostate cancer treatment uses a light-activated drug to zap prostate tumors. It has minimal side effects.
Dr. Coleman has been offering vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy since 2010. The procedure requires only light sedation — the same type used for a colonoscopy. Once sedated, the patient receives a medicine called padeliporfin (Tookad®) through an IV. Then the doctor places a thin laser fiber into the prostate gland, which activates the drug so it can kill the cancer. Patients can go home the same day.
“There’s a need for new technology to better destroy cancerous tissue without harming the surrounding tissue, and that’s where this type of therapy comes into play,” Dr. Coleman says.
Right now, vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy with Tookad has been approved in Europe for men with low-risk prostate cancer. Clinical trials are currently under way at MSK for men with intermediate-risk disease, with plans to expand trials to men with high-risk prostate cancer soon.
During their next meeting, Dr. Coleman told Gregory that he was recruiting men for a trial that would bring vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy closer to US Food and Drug Administration approval. At the time, he had 30 out of the 50 men he would need. Gregory knew this was his opportunity.
“I looked at my fiancée, I looked at Dr. Coleman, and I said, ‘Could I be number 31?’ ” he recalls. “He said yes, and I hugged him like he was my long-lost brother. I knew I was getting world-class treatment.”
The Big Day — and a Quick Recovery
Gregory had his procedure in October 2017 at Memorial Hospital. He went home the same day. He had to stay in shaded light conditions for the first two days he was home because Tookad is activated by light, but his fiancée helped him pass the time.
“When the 48 hours were up, I got up, put on my clothes, and went to a baseball game. And I felt fine,” he remembers. After the procedure, the only side effect Gregory experienced was some minor soreness. And unlike other major forms of prostate cancer treatment, he hasn’t had any serious issues with incontinence or erectile dysfunction.
At Gregory’s three-month postsurgery checkup in January, Dr. Coleman didn’t find any cancer. Ms. Estes relayed the good news.
“I remember I was so excited to make that call,” she recalls. “As an office practice nurse, you really get to know patients and their families. When the biopsy came back benign, it was great news. It makes my day when I am able to call a patient with news like this.”
Now, nearly a year since the surgery, Gregory is doing great. He’s busy at work and helping plan his and Cynthia’s wedding. He says this year is shaping up to be much better than the last.
“As a healthcare provider, it’s important for me to spread the word about positive things that can enhance and prolong people’s lives,” he says. “I feel very fortunate that I was at the right place, at the right time, with the right doctor and staff. How many people can say they had a complete turnaround in nine months?”