Research Paying Off for Men with Advanced Prostate Cancer

February 10, 2012
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It’s often said that most men will die with prostate cancer rather than from it. Autopsies of older men show it’s there even though it never created a problem. But when men are younger prostate cancer is cause for concern. And debate about the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test has not helped.

It’s often said that most men will die with prostate cancer rather than from it. Autopsies of older men show it’s there even though it never created a problem. But when men are younger prostate cancer is cause for concern. And debate about the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test has not helped. The test’s validity as a screening tool has been widely challenged as has the rush to surgery for many men. That’s why several leading medical centers are urging many men to have “active surveillance” and, even if prostate cancer cells have been identified in the prostate gland, nothing is done unless the disease appears to be on the move.

If the disease has already spread outside the prostate, however, that’s a whole other story. Hormonal therapy has been used for decades to shut down the testosterone that fuels the cancer cells. That approach can be effective but it has side effects many men find difficult to tolerate for very long.  Chemotherapy was shown a couple of years ago to benefit men where the cancer had advanced. That’s a tough approach too. So research has continued to seek a better way.

Now research has been paying off as the landscape within the past two years has been changing with more still to come. One approach, Sipuleucel-T, marketed as Provenge, a so called “cancer vaccine” that draws on the patient’s own immune system, has extended the lives of some men with the most advanced disease. But there was criticism that the drug was expensive, over $90,000, and only lengthened one’s life by an average of just over four months. Nevertheless, on an increased survival basis, the drug was FDA approved.  Now comes word the survival benefit may actually be longer. And another new study says this drug might help more men if used earlier in the course of the disease. Specialists are also encouraged by other drugs that have either been recently approved or seem likely to be approved soon.

Video interview with Dr. Chadi Nabhan

So then the question comes up, which of these drugs should be used when – the sequencing question –  and there’s also the key question of whether using drugs in combination can be even more powerful.

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I am excited to tell you we’ve launched an Advanced Prostate Cancer Health Center where experts are discussing all of this in terms the patient can understand. And we’ll be adding to it throughout the year in collaboration with many dedicated advocacy organizations that will be submitting questions we’ll pose to the experts. You can submit a question too.

Treatment of cancer has become complex. Some of that is because of improved diagnostics and a broader range of treatments. That is finally starting to occur in prostate cancer and it takes well-informed patients – working with doctors who are “in the know” to formulate the state-of-the-art treatment plan patients deserve.

Here’s hoping your prostate cancer will never be a problem, or, if it is, these modern medicines can preserve your ability to have a full life.

Wishing you and your family the best of health!

Andrew