As EastEnders’ Stan Carter deals with the fallout of his decision not to have chemotherapy and other treatments for advanced prostate cancer, Sophie Lutter explores possible future treatments for men with advanced disease.
Unless you came across this blog post completely by accident, and have never heard of us before, you probably know that we’ve just launched the next phase of Men United – our movement for everyone who believes that men are worth fighting for. And if you haven’t already got involved, you can sign up now.
Men United is about bringing men together to do more of what they enjoy, with their friends, to beat prostate cancer.
If you’re an EastEnders fan, you’ll know that Stan has been back on our screens this month after revealing to his family that he has advanced prostate cancer, but doesn’t want treatment. Now he’s dealing with the consequences of that decision. For Stan, beating prostate cancer meant not letting the side effects of treatments, particularly chemotherapy, dominate the last few months of his life.
But Men United is about getting together to push for real change. And the change we want to see is for ‘beating prostate cancer’ to become a real possibility for all men, regardless of the stage of their disease. We want to stop men like Stan dying from prostate cancer.
Well it won’t be easy, but then, nothing worthwhile ever is. There’s no such thing as a cure for advanced prostate cancer yet. We don’t know if or when that will change. But new drugs that can alleviate symptoms, delay disease progression and give precious extra time with families and friends are being developed at a rapid rate.
For example, cancer immunotherapy is an exciting area of research at the moment. Immunotherapy involves boosting the body’s defences so that our own immune system will turn against the cancer. Some scientists even think that the ‘immunology revolution’ will end up being more important for cancer treatment than uncovering small genetic differences between individuals, which is another of the hottest topics in cancer research at the moment.
There are a number of different types of immunotherapies showing promise in clinical trials at the moment, some of which have already been successful in other cancer types. This brings me nicely to another important step forward.
It might seem counterintuitive to look backward in order to move forwards, but in terms of new prostate cancer treatments, that’s just what we need to be doing.
We know that research into other cancer types has historically been better funded than that into prostate cancer, and that prostate cancer research is commonly held to be ‘at least ten years’ behind breast cancer research. But that doesn’t mean we need to take that long to catch up.
Taking a second look at existing treatments for other cancers to see if they might work in prostate cancer is well worth our while. This is probably the single most important way that we can speed up getting new prostate cancer treatments to the men who need them. For example, an immunotherapy treatment called ipilimumab had brilliant results for many skin cancer patients, and now it’s being looked at for prostate cancer. As with many other treatments, it looks like this might work better in some men than others, so this is what future trials will need to explore.
We’re funding some of this work to look at new uses for old drugs. That’s exactly what Professor Johann de Bono and Dr Joaquin Mateo are doing with the ovarian cancer drug, olaparib. They’re running clinical trials to see how this works for men with prostate cancer who have inherited a BRCA2 mutation, or developed one during the course of their disease. (We’ve written about BRCA mutations before – they are gene mutations which can make people who have them more likely to develop certain cancers.)
They and other researchers are also making huge leaps in working out ways to measure how well individual men respond to prostate cancer drugs. And they are working to figure out which drugs will work best for which men, based on the specific DNA of each man’s tumour.
Despite all these advances, a ‘cure’ for advanced prostate cancer is still a long shot, so we need to think about other ways to beat it. Like making it something that just doesn’t happen in the UK anymore. This is where early diagnosis comes in. If we can find a way to make sure that every man with the aggressive form of prostate cancer gets diagnosed at an early enough stage for it to be treatable, advanced prostate cancer might be a thing of the past.
And our plan to fund the development of a prostate cancer risk assessment tool could be the first step towards turning this fantasy into reality. Director of Research, Dr Iain Frame, gave us the low-down on where we are with this project in his guest blog last month.
Real change like this is what Men United was made for. We’re inspiring men to get together with their mates and do something amazing to beat prostate cancer. Like changing the way that prostate cancer is diagnosed in the UK forever, and making aggressive prostate cancer a thing of the past. Join us if you want to change the future for men like Stan.
Scientists have published new research which adds to the evidence that giving abiraterone before chemotherapy benefits men. (This came in the same week the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) announced their decision not to make abiraterone available on the NHS in Scotland for men who haven’t had chemotherapy.) Read about the promising results of these two research projects, including one which could identify men who would benefit most from the drug.