What do prostate cancer patients need to know about emerging research? Dr. Andrew Armstrong discusses developing treatments and their potential impact on prostate cancer care.
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.
Are there any recent developments in treatment and research that patients should know about?
Absolutely. I would say the number one research advance has been the use of these really strong hormonal therapies in earlier and earlier disease setting. So, you may have heard of drugs like Zytiga or abiraterone, or Xtandi or enzalutamide, apalutamide or Errleada, or derolutamide or Nubeqa. Those are mouthfuls. Those are very potent hormonal pills that when used in men with advanced disease improves survival.
And the data has supported the fact that the early use of those agents extends life even more than waiting until hormone resistance develops.
So, if you are unlucky enough to have metastatic disease and you’re in need of hormonal therapy, giving injections that lower testosterone, which is the fuel for most prostate cancers, and then blocking testosterone with some of these newer pills extends life by years, not months. And it does so with pretty good quality of life over time.
Of course, there are negative consequences of having no testosterone, and it’s important as part of shared decision-making to review those side effects and how that can impact quality of life negatively while extending survival.
So, that’s a major advance. Another major advance is genetic testing and personalized medicine. In men with advanced prostate cancer, it’s now uniformly recommended that all men get hereditary testing to figure out if they inherited prostate cancer risk genes.
These are genes such as the BRCA I and II genes, BRCA II being the most common. And these are not just breast or ovarian cancer genes. It’s important for men to realize that you can inherit these from a mother or a father, that they can create risks for multiple cancers, not just female cancers, but prostate cancer in particular.
And now we have guided therapies, targeted therapies that can improve survival in men with these certain mutations, and if you are found to have those mutations, your family members could be tested so that they could be screened, and cancer can be picked up earlier, and perhaps they could be cured rather than suffering the fate of a more advanced diagnosis. So, really important both for yourself and for family members.
So, those are two major advances. A third one is imaging.
Imaging keeps getting better and better. We used to just do CAT scans, bone scans, very insensitive tests that in men with advanced disease have a hard time seeing prostate cancer, even when it’s spread. But with the advent of new technologies, like PSMA PET scan, that got approved last year. So, very new technologies. That’s transforming the way we visualize where cancer may be hiding, and for men particularly that have high-risk disease or recurrent disease or even resistant disease, we’re using those scans to guide therapy.