The Journey

New prostate cancer drugs can give an extra 2 years to men with advanced disease

  • Two new treatments were found to delay the spread of prostate cancer in men
  • Each drug gave men more than two additional years before the disease moved into their bones and other organs, extending their lives
  • Until now, there has been little doctors could do for patients who have been treated for the original cancer and are waiting to see if it will spread 

Two new prostate cancer drugs could extend men’s lives by two years by slowing its painful spread. Many men with prostate cancer fall into a sort of medical limbo after they have been treated for prostate cancer but before the disease has spread. During that stage, doctors have had little to offer them to delay the inevitable. International teams of physicians in two studies experimented with using a drug approved to treat later stage prostate cancer and another entirely new therapy to treat men in this in-between phase. In the studies, co-led by doctors at Massachusetts General and Northwestern University, each drug significantly delayed the painful and deadly spread of the disease throughout this group of men’s bodies.

Two new drugs may stave off the spread of prostate cancer in men,  studies show Prostate cancer is the second most deadly form of the disease for men in the US, and the American Cancer Society anticipates that it will kill nearly 30,000 people this year alone while another 164,000 are diagnosed. Affecting more one in every nine men here, most forms of prostate cancer grow slowly, meaning they may not be detectable for many years. Even once these tumors are big enough to be found by scans, it is nearly impossible to predict how quickly they will grow from there, making it difficult for patients and doctors to determine the best course of treatment.

One of the primary markers of prostate cancer is high levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Elevated levels of the protein are not a diagnostic for the cancer itself, but do help doctors have some notion of its stage. Male hormones – called andogens – encourage the growth of prostate cancer, so doctors use hormone therapy to suppress testosterone and manage the growth of a tumor. However, even when their hormone levels are reduced as low as they can go, some men’s cancers continue to grow and spread.

The new studies – presented at the Genitourinary Cancers Symposium in San Francisco on Thursday – both recruited men whose cancers had not spread, or metastasized, but were still at risk of this happening. One of these, co-led by researchers from Northwestern and an institution in Rome, patients were given enzalutamide, or Xtandi, which the Food and Drug Administration has already approved to treat metastatic prostate cancer. Xtandi – which is already on the market for more than $7,450 a month – delayed the spread of cancer by an average of 36.6 months for 1,401 men. The second study treated patients with a new experimental therapy, called apalutamide. For the 806 out of 1,207 men that received the drug in the study, taking 240mg a day for 10 months delayed the spread of cancer by 40.5 months on average. By way of comparison, prostate cancer metastisized after 17.7 months and 16.2 months, respectively, in the study participants that got placebos. In addition to extending these men’s lives, their quality of life would undoubtedly be drastically improved for them.

Research suggests that as much as 80 percent of prostate cancer cases ultimately metastasize into the bones, especially the hip, pelvis and spine. The growth of cancer and tumor cells in the bones can be extremely painful, and cause debilitating muscle weakness for men. Both therapies may soon offer a longer, healthier life for men living with prostate cancer who were previously left largely helpless to wait for whatever might come next.

By Natalie Rahhal For

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