Krystina Tack returns home to help prostate victims

Sean C. Morgan

After developing a career as a medical physicist with prostate cancer research and clinical experience, a Sweet Home native has returned home and is offering her help free to men diagnosed with prostate cancer and their families.

Krystina Tack, who has a Ph.D. in medical physics, is starting a prostate cancer support group and hosted the first meeting on Tuesday. The group is free and open to the public. The first meeting will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday night and then on the first Thursday of the month at the Jim Riggs Community Center.

While in the Midwest, working at a large prostate cancer treatment facility in Chicago, she participated in a prostate cancer support group, which helped many men and their families, Tack said.

The group is intended to help men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and would like to know their treatment options and which questions to ask their doctors, she said. It’s also helpful for those who have been treated and have questions or experiences they would like to share. The group is a source of information about prostate cancer from an experienced professional.

Tack said she has already been helping people in the Sweet Home area, more than five who had the disease and needed to be treated.

“Basically, people would call me and ask questions,” she said. “Patients being treated for prostate cancer aren’t given the same treatment options. There is no law about what treatments are available.”

A law requires doctors to inform patients about all of their treatment options for other types of cancer, but not so with prostate cancer, Tack said.

Typically, when a patient presents symptoms, it is to a urologist not a specialist, Tack said. The urologist is a surgeon, and the first option is surgery. Some patients do well with it, while others do not.

“People ask, ‘Do I need my prostate?’” Tack said. “The doctor says, no, and they cut it out.”

Later, the patient regrets it and becomes depressed because of complications, Tack said. Doctors say that about 20 percent of patients have complications, but she thinks that figure should be higher with the most common non-skin cancers.

Sometimes, she said, given the age of a patient, the treatment is worse than the disease.

“Patients just aren’t given all the options,” she said. What she is really doing is giving people more to think about, information, what to ask doctors.

Doctors lay out options and provide information, she said. Patients need to ask how doctors know how their patients fare with the treatment options they’re offering and how they know how well their patients have done, whether the doctors ask their patients.

Patients are purchasing something, a treatment, and they should know everything they can about it, she said.

“The town doctor used to know all there was to know in medicine,” Tack said. Now there is so much information that no one can know all of it, and specialists are important to ensure a patient knows all of his options.

“If anyone’s got a question, show up,” she said. It’s not like Alcoholics Anonymous. She will give talks and provide information. No one needs to speak up. “I want people to show up and feel like they don’t have to say a word and can leave without saying a word.”

The median age of prostate cancer victims is 72, Tack said. It typically strikes after 50, although it can show up in men in their 30s.

Tack is a 1997 graduate of Sweet Home High School. She attended Linn-Benton Community College and graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in nuclear medicine. After working at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, she received an assistantship at OSU and earned her master’s degree in radiation health physics in 2006.

She completed an internship in Texas in 2010 and earned her doctorate in medical physics on a fellowship at the University of Texas Health Science Center. Her research was in prostate cancer therapy, specifically brach therapy.

She went to work as a therapeutic physicist in Chicago. She had worked with radiation oncologist Brian Moran on her Ph.D., and he offered her a job in Chicago.

At first, she wanted to work with head and neck cancers, she said, but then she had an opportunity to advance her career by working with prostate cancer.

Medical physicists are charged with maintaining medical machinery, like X-ray machines. As a therapeutic physicist, working with oncologists, she uses radiation to treat cancer. In brach therapy, radioactive metal seeds are implanted to deliver doses of radiation to the cancer.

Cancer is unchecked cell growth, Tack said. The idea behind radiation therapy is to irradiate and destroy the cancerous cells while avoiding overdosing healthy surrounding tissue.

After working in Chicago, she returned to Sweet Home and went to work at OSU, where she is director of medical physics.

The program is new at OSU in a joint program with Oregon Health Sciences University, starting this school year, she said, and it is the first time that Oregon has been able to educate medical physicists.

“I think what motivated me to come back, everybody I know is here,” Tack said. “I like Sweet Home. It’s why I moved back. I love Sweet Home. Ultimately, wherever else you go, it’s not home.”

And she wants to help her hometown, she said. “It’s a way she can contribute.

“I just want to make sure if there is a need, it’s being met,” Tack said. It could be people who had treatment a long time ago, people wanting to know the risk of a certain treatment or family members who want to know more about the disease.

“I want it to be available if people will benefit from it,” she said.

For more information, contact Tack at [email protected].