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A Once-Banned Prostate Cancer Treatment Comes To Florida

High-intensity focused ultrasound, a once-banned prostate cancer treatment called HIFU, is coming to Florida.
High-intensity focused ultrasound, a once-banned prostate cancer treatment called HIFU, is coming to Florida.

Twelve years ago, right after getting a diagnosis of prostate cancer, Carl Sola of Homestead flew with his wife to the Dominican Republic for a treatment he couldn't get in the United States.

His friends warned him not to risk an unproven procedure, one his insurance didn’t cover. But being a guinea pig appealed to Sola more than the risk of prostate surgery; after a prostatectomy, a relative had been forced to wear diapers.

Solas said that after he finished the painless, bloodless procedure on a Saturday, he and his wife “went out to dinner that night, and flew home Sunday. Monday morning I was up and on the road,” working.

Now, soon to turn 70, he said he’s still cancer-free and all his parts are working fine.

“There’s nothing that can take the place of being able to feel like a total man,” Solas said.

Now, it’s no longer necessary for Americans like Solas to go overseas for the treatment, which is called high-intensity focused ultrasound or HIFU. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration made HIFU legal for prostate treatment in October.

Since then, at least three Florida urologists who had been doing HIFU offshore are now doing it at outpatient centers in Sarasota and Miami. They say HIFU is in demand even though insurers haven’t learned enough about it yet to give it a billing code, and some patients are paying $20,000 or more.

Urologist George Suarez, who treated Sola and 2,000 others at offshore sites, can now do HIFU at the Miami Sunset Surgery Center. Suarez predicts that HIFU will soon become the standard of care for cancer that is confined to the prostate and has not spread, which describes most cases at time of diagnosis.

“We’re looking at a real game-changer,” Suarez said. “We’re looking at one of the most dramatic and important advances (ever) in urology, if not in medicine.”

Dr. Stephen Scionti, who also has years of experience with HIFU in other countries, now does it at the Sarasota Interventional Radiology Center, along with his colleague Tracy Gapin. Working with a Birmingham company, Vituro Health, Scionti also is developing a training program for urologists who want to learn HIFU.

Still another Sarasota doctor who has been doing HIFU in Cancun, Ronald Wheeler, is now building out space in his office building for the technology.

Whether he will get to use it is an open question: Wheeler faces four state Health Department complaints for failing to do a biopsy before treating patients for prostate cancer.