Tag Archive for: Gleason score

An Overview of Prostate Cancer Treatment Approaches

An Overview of Prostate Cancer Treatment Approaches from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How is prostate cancer currently treated? Dr. Andrew Armstrong provides an overview of treatment options for prostate cancer patients across various stages of the disease.

Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong is a medical oncologist and director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers. For more information on Dr. Armstrong here.

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What are the treatment options that are currently available for prostate cancer patients? 

Dr. Armstrong:

It’s a really important question, and I would say it depends. In early disease, when cancer is picked up early, many patients are cured. Prostate cancer is the number one survived cancer in the United States. It’s important to realize that and kind of take a deep breath and realize that most patients beat prostate cancer. Only about one out of six men will suffer a relapse or develop metastatic disease or Stage IV disease that requires more of a lifelong journey of therapy. 

So, most men come into this because they’ve been screened by their primary care doctor. They had a high PSA, they underwent a biopsy, they were found to have cancer.  

And the first decision, particularly for example at our Duke multidisciplinary clinic, the first decision that we always share with the patient, and as part of shared decision-making, is we give information about prognosis and risk using the PSA level, the biopsy information, staging information if imaging is done.  

And then giving a category or a risk group to that patient can help them decide what are the options that are nationally recommended, internationally recommended by evidence-based guidelines. The most important decision is whether that prostate cancer needs treatment right now at all, and the initial observation or active surveillance is a very valuable “first do no harm” approach for men with very low risk or low risk types of prostate cancer. With a low-grade cancer, low PSA, low stage, and that’s about a third of all patients.  

That’s a huge number of men are told they have cancer, but they actually don’t need initial treatment. 

And they need to be explained to, why we’re not going to treat that cancer, why it’s so safe, and why mortality is not high in that patient population when we don’t treat it, and how we do active surveillance. For example, imaging with MRI, repeat biopsies. And a lot of patients do appreciate that because they’re not undergoing surgery or radiation and they’re not being harmed by those treatments. That would be called overtreatment. That’s not for everybody, though. 

So, just like prostate cancer comes in different flavors, treatments come in different flavors. So, there’s things where the Gleason score is higher, the stage may be higher, the PSA is higher, and the risk to the patient is higher. And when we get into that more intermediate- and high-risk situation, treatment is going to be necessary. But then we’ll have a menu of treatment options that is important to talk through. Typically surgery, radiation, sometimes alternatives to that. 

Sometimes combinations with hormonal therapy, which we call systemic therapy. The drugs that work throughout the body. 

Katherine Banwell:

What about for patients who have advanced disease? 

Dr. Armstrong:

The word “advanced” can mean different things to different people. Advanced can mean metastatic disease. It can mean disease that’s not curable. But advanced can also mean that it’s high risk. That the disease is still confined to the prostate, but it’s aggressive, and that if it’s not handled quickly with a multidisciplinary approach, for example, it has a high risk of occurrence.  

So, advanced disease can mean aggressive, in need of treatment. Sometimes it can be cured if it’s confined to the prostate. Sometimes it requires more than just one treatment modality, such as surgery followed by radiation, or radiation plus some of the newer hormonal therapies.  

For men with stage IV disease, that means disease that has left the prostate and gone to distant sites, we have very effective therapies that can still control this type of advanced disease for many, many years, so it is important to realize how far we’ve come with all of our therapies and to reassure the patient and their family about the good prognosis, even in the worst-case scenario, for many patients. 

PSA vs Gleason Score | What’s the Difference?

PSA vs Gleason Score | What’s the Difference? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Prostate cancer expert, Dr. Rana McKay, explains the difference between PSA blood levels and a Gleason score and discusses how these measurements impact prostate cancer care.

Dr. Rana McKay is a medical oncologist at UC San Diego Health and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. McKay, here.

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Katherine Banwell:

We received a patient question prior to the program. What is the difference between my PSA level and Gleason score?  

Dr. Rana McKay:

Yeah. So, very good question. So, Gleason score is something that is determined based off a pathologic assessment. So, it’s basically, you know, a biopsy is done from the prostate or the – the surgical specimen from the removal of the prostate is looked at under the microscope and a Gleason score is based off what something looks like underneath a microscope and ideally, a Gleason score is given really only for the prostate – for tissue derived from the prostate.  

So, if somebody has a bone biopsy for example or a lymph node biopsy, they’re not going to necessarily get a glycine score per se. It’s been – been validated from the prostate itself and ideally, also, an untreated prostate. So, if somebody has you know had radiation therapy and then has a biopsy, the Gleason score there is – there should not necessarily be a notation of what a Gleason score is. It’s really an untreated prostate. Now PSA is prostate-specific antigen, and it’s a protein that’s made from the prostate gland, and it’s found in circulation. PSA doesn’t hurt any – the actual, you know, molecule itself is – is innocuous. It doesn’t hurt anything. It’s just a marker of, sometimes can be a marker of burden of disease in prostate cancer, and I think sometimes we as clinicians do, you know, you know a disservice to some patients because I think we fixate – we can fixate a lot on PSA. 

But PSA is not the whole story, and it’s one factor of several factors that we take into account in determining whether someone needs treatment or whether a treatment is working or not working. 

Thriving With Prostate Cancer: What You Should Know About Care and Treatment Resource Guide

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Understanding Prostate Cancer Staging and Progression

Understanding Prostate Cancer Staging and Progression from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the stages of prostate cancer? Expert Dr. Maha Hussain provides an overview of prostate cancer stages and progression – and explains scans that detect disease to aid in optimal 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.

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Dr. Hussain, we’re going to spend most of this conversation talking about advanced prostate cancer. But before we move on, would you give us a brief overview of the stages of prostate cancer?

Dr. Hussain:

Absolutely. So, with any cancer, we count sort of like four stages. But I would say in prostate cancer the biggest thing is when the cancer is newly diagnosed, which could be confined to the prostate or locally advanced, meaning the cancer has gotten outside the capsule of the prostate but still within that pelvic region.

There is the group of patients who have pelvic lymph nodes at time of diagnosis. And of course, that is the patients who have systemic disease, which would be technically stage four. Now, the systemic disease implies any abnormality that is found on scans that is beyond the public region. So, that could be lymph nodes in the back of the belly. That could be thoracic lymph nodes. That could be neck nodes. That could be lung lesions, of course, or bone, or liver.

Now, the most common area where the cancer goes to is really – when we talk about metastatic disease – is the bone. And then lymph is another area where the cancer goes to. Prostate cancer that is confined to the prostate is curable in the vast majority of patients. There is a category of men who undergo surgery or radiation, and then their PSA begins to go up afterwards.

And this is what we call biochemical relapse. And this is a situation where we know that, in all likelihood obviously, especially of the patients who have had their prostate out, that the cancer has spread. With the current imagine, a good chunk of times, we do not find anything because we’re able to pick up PSA that goes from undetectable to 0.2 to 0.3, but there’s not enough cancer to show up on the scans. We’re hoping, obviously, the better scans, the PET Axumin scan, the PSMA scans are going to help us to identify sites of metastases.

But this is a group of men where if there is no cancer visible and the only thing we’re dealing with is PSA that’s going up, if they’ve had surgery, then

there’s room for what we call salvage therapy with radiation and hormonal treatment. The case is a bit different if there’s only just the prostate – if radiation was given previously. And of course, we talked about metastatic disease.


Once someone has been diagnosed, what tests are used to help understand the aggressiveness of their disease and their overall prognosis?

Dr. Hussain:

Well, I think there is different basic things, as in, what was the extent of the cancer? How did it look under the microscope? And what is the PSA levels? So, these are the general things. There are different sort of genomic panels that the urologist will use to kind of decipher and other things to kind of help with figuring out aggressiveness and things like that. What I would say is this, is a patient who is diagnosed and has a cancer, and at a minimum has what we consider a Gleason 7 prostate cancer – so, that’s the scoring system that is done with the original Gleason score, or the new patterns where it’s talking about intermediate risk to high risk – to me, this is a cancer that needs to be treated.

And again, that’s all to do with if a person has other comorbidities, they have some other terminal condition that’s a separate story. But talking generically, that would be when we would recommend. And these are the patients that are generally not seen by the medical oncologist. They’re seen by the urologist, and then they can refer them to radiation oncology also for consultation.

Top Tips and Advice for Prostate Cancer Patients and Caregivers Navigating Treatment

Top Tips and Advice for Prostate Cancer Patients and Caregivers Navigating Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What should prostate cancer patients and caregivers know about prostate cancer treatment? Dr. Leanne Burnham shares advice for patients with concerns about treatment side effects, information about active surveillance, and some specific advice for Black men with prostate cancer.

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Dr. Leanne Burnham

Yes, so it is a couples’ disease for sure, and you want to make sure to do a little bit of your own research. Make sure that your doctor knows how this disease affects Black men differently, because what I see a lot of time, even in my own family, my husband’s family members that get prostate cancer and they come to me, a lot of times, their doctor will recommend active surveillance. And it may not be appropriate for African American men if you look at the research and you look at the studies. And so, it may benefit you to just ask your doctor, “Do you treat a lot of Black patients, or do you see any difference in their survival rates versus your other patients?” And really consider that when you’re thinking about whether to do active surveillance or not. Once it gets time for treatments, one thing when I — because I talk to a lot of men and support groups, and men are scared, they don’t want to lose their urinary function, they don’t want to lose their sexual function. And so, they’re nervous about certain diseases and in terms of surgeries and radical prostatectomy, there are nerve-sparing surgeries now to really protect that function afterwards, and there are exercises that can be done afterwards to also help improve, and so ask the nurses in your setting, “What are some of those exercises that can be done?” But one thing to keep in mind is every treatment comes with its sort of risk, right?

So, no matter whether you choose radiation or surgery, there’s always a risk that you may lose some of that function, what I tell men, and not to sound not sensitive to the matter, but a lot of men, they’ll say, you know, “Oh, if I get this treatment and what if I can’t have sex anymore?” You’re not going to have sex when you’re buried 6 feet underground either. And so, you want to be able to get those treatments, the ones that you and your physician have a shared decision in and in deciding what’s best as a couple. But you don’t want to be naive if you’re at the doctor and you have a really elevated PSA and you have a Gleason score of 8, and your doctor is telling you, “We really need to treat this,” you don’t want to shy away from that, because you’re scared of the side of the side effects in that setting. You can look for where the best surgery center is if they have the nerve-sparing surgery, as I said, and explore your options that way. But don’t put it off so long, because you’re worried about the side effects. And if you don’t get treatment and your doctor wants you to, as time goes on, you’ll lose the urinary function and the sexual function anyways.

So yeah, it’s not something that you want to put off because you’re scared about the side effects. And a lot of men do have side effects temporarily, and then they regain their function, and I really encourage to join support groups virtually now because of how the role is set up. But just talk to some other men that have had some of these procedures and see how they’re doing. And I personally haven’t met a man that felt like, “Oh, I have been cured from prostate cancer, and now I have the side effects, and I wish I wouldn’t have had the procedure,” I haven’t met one. And I know in those who have side effects and they had surgeries and 10, 15 years ago, and they have side effects, I’m not going to act like that doesn’t happen. But none of them have ever expressed to me that they wish they could go back in time and not do that, because, at the end of the day, they’re grateful that they are still here with their loved ones.