Controversial Cancer Treatment in Cancun

It is a procedure that Patrick Walsh, a urologist at Johns Hopkins and one of the world's leading experts on prostate cancer, said he would never recommend to his patients.

"I think it's entirely experimental," Walsh said. "That any enthusiasm that's been engendered for it is really coming from the industry that makes the machine."

Walsh is referring to the Sonablate 500, the high-tech machine used to perform the procedure. Suarez has part ownership of the company that makes it.

But the enthusiasm is real, and it's easy to see why. Suarez claims his success in curing cancer is equivalent to that of conventional methods, but the real selling point is the claim that there are fewer side effects.

"Our goal is to treat this man, eradicate his cancer and return him to baseline function as far as sexual function, urinary function and rectal function," Suarez said.

It is the neurovascular bundles that control a man's erectile function. Suarez uses the ultrasound to identify them and avoid damaging them.

"I'll treat right up to the neurovascular bundle," he said. "And by not treating beyond the neurovascular bundle, I'll be able to perform a potency-sparing HIFU procedure and hopefully decrease the risk of erectile dysfunction in this patient."

It's not every day that you see a doctor bring a plate of fruit into an operating theater, but because this procedure does not require a sterile environment — there's no surgery happening here — Suarez thought some props would help us understand.

"I've had them bring in a grapefruit," he explained, pointing to a half grapefruit on a tray. "And if you took this grapefruit, and the outer part of the crust was a prostatic capsule [the shell of the prostate], what we're going to do with HIFU is we're going to create lesions across the prostate so that, in the end, the only thing that is left intact is the prostatic capsule or the skin of the grapefruit."

Scientific Skepticism

"I think it's being hyped," Johns Hopkins' Walsh said of the procedure. "I think that people have skipped over a critical analysis of cancer control, and I think physicians are being encouraged to do it because they can make a lot of money."

"Nightline" spoke with more than a dozen leading American urologists who share Walsh's skepticism of HIFU.

Mark Soloway, chairman of the Department of Urology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, said many men who seek HIFU and the more conventional traditional treatments don't need them. Prostate cancer grows so slowly that active monitoring is often the best option.

"One in six men in the U.S. will have prostate cancer in their lifetime. How many will die? One in 35. That tells you right away that most men will not die of this cancer even if followed for 15 to 20 years."

Suarez insists that the procedure works.

"I think more than anything I could tell you that could make you believe in me is the number of patients that have had very successful treatment," he said. "I think the outcomes of the therapy speak for themselves."

But that doesn't satisfy critics who want to see what science says about the procedure. Suarez says USHIFU has treated more than 1,000 men in the last five years in Cancun, Canada and across the Caribbean, but he only tracks medical results by what he calls patient "testimonials." He can't supply solid scientific data that proves his patients are cancer free with fewer side effects.

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