Not your grandfather’s prostate cancer treatment
Prostate cancer is a much dreaded disease that doesn’t get enough respect. It grows slowly, and some view the conditions as fairly innocuous. It’s not uncommon to hear stories that an older man will die from other causes long before prostate cancer gets him.
“That just isn’t always true,” says Basia McAnaw, MD, a radiation oncologist with Cape Cod Healthcare. “Thirty thousand men in the United States die every year from prostate cancer.”
When you compare that figure to the average of 39,000 to 40,000 women who die from breast cancer each year, the numbers aren’t really that different.
Prostate cancer is diagnosed with a blood test called a Prostatic Specific Antigen, commonly known as a PSA, and a digital rectal exam. Four different treatments are available, and each requires education so the patient can make the best choice for his lifestyle and age.
Until recently, all prostate cancers were grouped together, meaning that slow-growing cancers were sometimes treated as aggressively as the more dangerous fast-growing ones. This led to a lot of men getting much more invasive treatment than they needed.
A new study done by researchers at Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Addenbrooke’s Hospital identified five different types of prostate cancer in a test group of 259 men. The study was first published in EBioMedicine.
Dr. McAnaw, who has more than 30 years of experience in her field, is very encouraged by the UK study and similar research that seeks to identify the genetic code of prostate cancer cells to help determine the type and, therefore, the best treatment.
“We’re trying to look at the molecular signature of prostate cancer cells to identify which ones are more likely to spread, which ones we should give more aggressive therapies to and which ones we don’t have to treat aggressively,” she says.
The UK study was inspired by the 2012 discovery that breast cancer is at least 10 different diseases and each one has a unique genetic signature.
Dr. McAnaw says the studies are still in the research phase, so they aren’t being used for normal evaluation on patients at this time. But in the next 30 years, she predicts, researchers will determine how to actually manipulate the DNA codes within the cells to prevent them from growing out of control.
Then, she says, “We won’t have any reason for surgery or radiation or chemotherapy.”