In prostate cancer – the most common cancer in men aside from skin cancer – scientists are working to answer some of the most basic questions about the disease while developing an array of new treatments.
Using the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, doctors are often able to detect prostate cancer at an early stage. But it remains difficult to determine which prostate cancers are likely to spread – and therefore require aggressive treatment – and which are either idle or slow-growing, and can be dealt with by “observation or active surveillance.” This uncertainty could result in unnecessary treatment for some patients.
With nearly 239,000 men in the United States diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013, it is important to have a game plan for prevention, screening and treatment. View the infographic below for more:
For about 70 years, the standard treatment for patients with advanced prostate cancer was drugs that blocked male hormones feeding the tumor. If that stopped working and the disease progressed, oncologists turned to chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells.
This timetable is about to change. Results of a clinical trial led by a Dana-Farber researcher revealed that such patients lived longer if started on both a hormone blocker and a chemotherapy drug at the same time. The government-sponsored trial found that 69 percent of men receiving both treatments were alive at three years, compared with 52.5 percent of men who initially got just the hormone blocker. The advantage was so striking – especially for patients with greater degrees of cancer spread – that the National Cancer Institute publicized the findings ahead of schedule to alert doctors and patients.
“The results of this study are practice-changing for some patients,” says Christopher Sweeney, MBBS, clinical director of Dana-Farber’s Lank Center for Genitourinary Cancer, who headed the trial. We asked him to explain: