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What Are Advanced Prostate Cancer Treatment Options?

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What Are Advanced Prostate Cancer Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is advanced prostate cancer and how is it treated? Expert Dr. Tanya Dorff explains advanced prostate cancer and discusses available treatment approaches, including clinical trial considerations.

Dr. Tanya Dorff is Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope. Learn more about Dr. Dorff.


Related Resources:

What Is Advanced Prostate Cancer?

What Questions Should Prostate Cancer Patients Ask About Clinical Trials



First, what does it mean to have advanced disease? 

Dr. Dorff:

Advanced prostate cancer signals cancer that’s come back after curative intention or has presented de novo in a way that means we don’t currently have a tool to cure it. That’s at least how I view advanced prostate cancer. You could take a broader definition and consider some high-risk localized patients who need multimodal therapy, but to me, it’s really signaling a shift from something we’re aiming to cure versus something we’re aiming to manage, so that can manifest just as a PSA that’s rising, what we call biochemical recurrence, or it can manifest as visible metastatic disease. 


What does “locally advanced mean? 

Dr. Dorff:

So, “locally advanced” means that it hasn’t metastasized, but it might be involving the local structures, like the seminal vesicles or the bladder or some of the regional lymph nodes, the pelvic lymph nodes. 


How is advanced prostate cancer treated? 

Dr. Dorff:

The cornerstone of treatment for advanced prostate cancer has really been hormone therapy. I think there’s a lot of negative stuff out there on the internet about hormone therapy that I think does a disservice to patients because hormone therapy is truly very, very effective and, for many men, can be quite livable. 

I have patients who live more than a decade on hormone therapy, and they’re running their businesses and they’re raising their grandkids, they’re traveling, they’re running 10Ks, they’re doing all the things that they might want to be doing. That’s not to say there aren’t side effects, but hormone therapy is an effective cornerstone, and I really hope people won’t dismiss it offhand because of the negative things they’ve heard or read about it. 


What about other treatment classes?  

Dr. Dorff:

Most of our other treatments are really layered on top of hormone therapy. We may get to a point – 10 years from now, I don’t know, sometime in the future – when we don’t start with the hormone therapy, so a lot of patients come in asking about the new radiopharmaceutical, the Lutetium-177-PSMA that got approved last year, or about whether chemotherapy can be used. They can be, but they’re really layered on top of hormone therapy, so the hormone therapy is the first treatment, it’s the most effective right now, and then it’s continued as we swap out – we add a novel hormonal agent like abiraterone (Zytiga), or enzalutamide (Xtandi), or one of the others. 

When that is no longer effective, we swap that out, we might use chemotherapy or the radiopharmaceutical. There’s also an immunotherapy that’s been around for more than a decade called sipuleucel-T, and now there’s the targeted therapies – the PARP inhibitors – as well for select patients. 


Where do clinical trials fit into treatment?  

Dr. Dorff:

That’s a great question. I’m so glad you asked. Clinical trials some people mistakenly believe are your last choice, like you’ve gone through every single treatment we have, and then you go to a clinical trial. That’s not the case. Some of the biggest advances in prostate cancer have been when we’ve taken drugs that work in a more advanced resistance setting, like a second- or third-line, and when we move them right up front, first-line, we dramatically amplify their benefit. We dramatically improve survival. 

So, if we don’t think about a clinical trial in the first line, we’re going to miss the opportunity to not only develop those new treatment paradigms, but actually participate in them ahead of when they become the new standard of care down the road. 

Another misconception that people have often about clinical trials is that they are always randomized, there’s always a flipping of the coin in assignment of different treatments, and that they may include a placebo. So, most of our clinical trials at this point do not include placebo. Because we have so many effective treatment options, we’re more and more frequently comparing either two drugs against one, so everyone’s getting at least one effective drug, or we’re not comparing at all, but everyone’s getting some new treatment or some combination of treatments when we’re working out dosing in that scenario, like a Phase II. 

So, clinical trials are really an option at any stage of prostate cancer, even at diagnosis for localized disease all the way through, and truly, I hope people would consider looking at those as options because that’s where some of the most innovative treatment options are going to become available to them. 

Treatment Options for Advanced Prostate Cancer

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Treatment Options for Advanced Prostate Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are treatment options for advanced prostate cancer? Expert Dr. Maha Hussain provides a breakdown of hormone therapy and explains how targeted therapy is used in prostate cancer care.

Dr. Maha Hussain is the Deputy Director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Learn more about this expert here.

See More From INSIST! Prostate Cancer

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Now that we understand how test results can help inform a patient’s cancer and how it may behave. Let’s discuss how they can affect treatment options for men with advanced disease. First, let’s do a brief review of the treatment types currently available. There’s hormone therapy, right. What else?

Dr. Hussain:

Perhaps, it’s simpler if we focus on advanced disease, specifically metastatic disease.

So, if that’s the deal, then the backbone of treatment is hormone treatment. And it really is. We call it hormone, but technically it’s an anti-hormone. What we’re trying to do is shut down the hormonal pathway that stimulate the testes, which is the factory that makes testosterone. So, we are looking at shutting down testosterone production from the testes in order to starve the cancer.

Now, the male hormone is produced predominantly – somewhere about 95 percent of it is made by the testes, and then there are about 5 percent-ish that comes from other sources. These are, again, male hormones like the adrenal gland and so on. And there was a while ago some research – I want to say from the MD Anderson crowd, but this is two years ago – that suggested also that the tumor may start to make sort of in-house production of male hormone to support itself.

Now, having said that, again, testes continue to be the source of the majority of the male hormone. And so, historically, the first data that showed benefit was actually by surgically removing the testes, which is what we call orchiectomy or bilateral orchiectomy. And then medications began hitting the market and were evaluated in the late ’80s and then 1990s, beginning with Lupron – which by the way, in the ’80s, it was an injection that the patient had to give themselves every day, which is remarkable.

But even then, there is a personal preference by patients to go and take injections as opposed to go through surgery with orchiectomy. But still, I would say for some patients it may be an option until it ought to be discussed as an option. Then what we know is this, is because of the

potential other sources for the male hormone, the concept of what we call combined androgen depravation was being evaluated.

And again, this goes back to the ’80s when the first drug was flutamide and then bicalutamide, and there are other drugs that became. And they kind of added a sprinkle, I call it, to survival. But it wasn’t dramatic, huge differences in survival. And so, generally, while we used it, everybody believed in using it. Moving forward, the drugs like abiraterone, enzalutamide, apalutamide are the three hormonal drugs that have demonstrated conclusively really an advantage in terms of prolonging life when added to the Lupron.

So, what I tell my patients is that, when it comes to hormone treatment there is really no way around it. You can delay it. Some people are exploring for some patients who don’t have a lot of cancer, maybe a couple of areas, maybe just do targeted radiation and then leave the person alone to buy them some treatment-free time.

And, to me, this is where the discussion that has to happen with the patient. What is the objective? Is the objective to kind of be ahead of the game and maximally treat the cancer with the hope of prolonging life? Or is the objective to delay treatment? And I would tell you that, with these types of conversation, nine out of 10 or 9.5 out of 10 men opt for moving aggressively up front with management. So, that’s that.

Now, the one thing I should point out, one of the trials that also was a landmark trial in this disease was the study CHAARTED, which was an intergroup clinical trial at the time it was designed, led by ECOG, and the PI was Dr. Chris Sweeney. I was part of the team that worked on the design also of the study.

And that was a trial that looked at adding docetaxel to hormone therapy, versus hormone therapy alone, to try to see if it adds something. Historically, all the chemotherapies prior to that that were added to hormone treatment for patients with newly diagnosed metastatic disease had not delivered. And docetaxel did.

However, one thing I should point out, based on that trial – and I don’t want to go into too much details for the sake of time – the patients that seemed to be benefiting were the patients that had more aggressive, more disease in their system. And so, liver metastases, lung metastases spread in the bone at different areas, not like few isolated areas in the spine or the pelvis, but much more than that.

And so, for the patients who have what we call high-volume prostate cancer based on scans – and I’m happy to explain what that means if it’s needed – these are the patients that I would offer either the docetaxel plus hormone treatment, which is the injection, or the injection plus the hormonal pills that I mentioned earlier.


What about targeted therapy? How is that used?

Dr. Hussain:

Okay. So, let’s begin with the molecularly targeted therapy. So, as we speak right now, for patients who have newly diagnosed metastatic disease that we call hormone-sensitive, molecularly targeted therapy is not standard of care. So, I would encourage patients who may qualify for clinical trial to be involved in those. The flipside is – we can talk about it – is that molecularly targeted therapies, specifically with PARP inhibitors have pretty much entered in the space of prostate cancer with a couple of drugs that were FDA-approved.

The other way of targeted treatment, which would be what we refer to targeted radiation, this would be a different story. This is not systemic treatment. This is a local treatment. And what is done is basically if patients do not have a lot of cancer in their body based on scans, and only certain areas, and they are starting systemic therapy, they can certainly consult with a radiation oncologist to target radiation to areas that are visible on scan. So, if somebody has a couple of, let’s say, pelvic bone lesions, maybe a lymph node, and they are already starting systemic therapy, they can consult with a radiation oncologist focal radiation. And so, that would be the general scheme.