Men with prostate cancer often survive 15 years or longer after learning they have the disease, but prostate cancer remains one of the five most common cancers and the second most frequent cause of cancer-related death among men.¹’² Today, fewer people are being screened for the disease, and many are unaware of new treatment approaches that can extend life.
In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) made a controversial recommendation to abandon routine screening for all men using a blood test that measures levels of a protein called prostate specific antigen, or PSA. Despite a reversal of this recommendation in 2018, a disturbing trend has emerged – more men are being diagnosed with prostate cancer after the disease has progressed into the more dangerous advanced stage, and the once-declining prostate cancer death rate has stalled.³
As the standard of care for prostate cancer has evolved in the past decade, a number of new treatment options have become available for men with advanced prostate cancer – those whose cancer recurs after radiation or surgery.⁴
The first line of treatments aims to suppress production of the hormone testosterone, which contributes to prostate cancer growth.⁵ However, hormone therapy’s effectiveness diminishes over time, and the treatment eventually fails in more than 60 percent of men,⁶ indicating the disease may be progressing. It is at this transition point where the newest treatments can make a difference.
“If you have prostate cancer, there are many new therapeutic options that provide us the ability to extend lives,” says Dr. Michael Fabrizio, an advanced prostate cancer specialist at Urology of Virginia in Virginia Beach.
Newer Treatment Options for Advanced Prostate Cancer Offer Hope
The introduction of advanced treatment options for prostate cancer required a shift in thinking for physicians. In the past, doctors rarely ordered bone scans or other tests to pinpoint the cancer when it became more serious, because there were few options besides pain management and chemotherapy to offer. Some physicians chose to not even tell patients that their cancer had progressed.
Things are very different today. In the past three decades, physicians have had an array of new therapies available to treat men in the advanced stages of the disease, including anti-androgen therapy, radiopharmaceuticals, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.⁷
Among these, immunotherapy is one of the most exciting categories of cancer treatments to emerge in the past decade and works differently than other cancer treatments. This is truly “personalized” medicine using a patient’s own cells to stimulate the body’s immune system to target and attack the prostate cancer cells.
The availability of such new, more effective treatment options is a good thing for patients, but it demands careful disease management. There are important questions about when to give each of these therapies and what sequence provides the greatest positive impact on survival.
However, if men don’t know their options or don’t have access to prostate cancer specialists who can best guide them, they may miss the opportunity for these newer treatments.⁸ The right treatments at the right times may help patients live better and longer.
Robert Gregory, 78, knows this firsthand. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001, he received immunotherapy in 2017 and subsequent treatment when the cancer started to spread. “What they’re doing has definitely helped,” he says. “They said they can take care of the prostate cancer and I should believe in them, and so far, that’s worked out.”
Close Monitoring Takes on New Importance
Diligent monitoring is crucial, especially for immunotherapy. Studies show that treatment with immunotherapy may extend life.⁹ However, to have the best chance of successfully boosting the patient’s own immune system, immunotherapy treatment should be administered before the cancer has done too much damage to the immune system. This is because treatment works best when the immune system is not overly damaged.¹⁰ This typically is before a patient has any pain or other symptoms, so a combination of blood tests and bone scans are essential.
Regular blood tests to measure PSA help spot when the prostate cancer becomes more aggressive. High or steady increases in PSA levels are signs of active prostate cancer. However, catching the disease when it spreads requires additional methods such as imaging with CT-scans or other advanced imaging technologies, which help doctors spot prostate cancer that may have spread to the bones or other organs.¹¹
Now, urologists want men with prostate cancer to understand if they get their PSA tests and bone scans on the schedule their doctor recommends, there may be treatments that can boost the body’s own cancer-fighting power and help them live longer.
“We have a lot more to offer, so we need to see these patients more frequently to ensure we are monitoring any changes in their disease closely,” says Fabrizio.
Specialized Clinics Optimize Treatment
To support the changing treatment landscape, a growing number of specialized urology care clinics have emerged, where patients can get a full range of services provided by nurses, doctors and other professionals who focus only on advanced prostate cancer.
With an emphasis on improved quality of life, Fabrizio and many other urologists at these clinics have expert staff who help patients navigate the treatment journey. Just helping sort out the treatment options or financial issues can make a difference.
Information Keeps People Living
Fabrizio encourages men to learn about prostate cancer so that they can be proactive. In addition to his clinic’s website, he recommends the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the American Urological Association.
“When you hear the ‘c’ word yourself, it has a different meaning. It’s not something you want to hear,” says Gregory. “I tell people listen to your doctor and keep up with what they say. Stick with the program.”
The contents and information in this Dendreon-provided and sponsored article are for informational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, dial 9-1-1 or contact your doctor immediately.
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