What’s new in prostate cancer research?
Research about prostate cancer is being done in many medical centers around the world.
New research on gene changes linked to prostate cancer helps scientists better understand how prostate cancer grows. Tests to find abnormal prostate cancer genes could also help tell which men are at high risk. They could then be tested more often. Further research will help provide answers about the gene changes that lead to prostate cancer. This may make it possible to design drugs to target those changes.
One of the biggest problems now facing doctors and their patients with prostate cancer is figuring out which cancers are more likely to spread. Knowing this could help decide which men need treatment and which could be better served by watchful waiting. Researchers are now trying to find genetic clues about which cancers are more likely to grow fast and spread.
Researchers continue to look for foods that affect prostate cancer risk. Scientists have found some substances in tomatoes and soybeans that may help prevent prostate cancer. They are trying to develop related compounds that are even more powerful and might be taken as supplements. So far, most research suggests that a balanced diet that includes these foods as well as other fruits and vegetables is better than taking these substances as supplements.
Some studies have suggested that certain vitamins and minerals could lower prostate cancer risk. But a large study found that neither vitamin E nor selenium supplements lowered prostate cancer risk after daily use for about 5 years.
Some studies have found that men with high levels of vitamin D seem to have a lower risk of getting the more lethal forms of prostate cancer. Overall though, studies have not found that vitamin D protects against prostate cancer.
Although many people believe that vitamins and other natural substances cause no harm, some research has shown that high doses may be harmful. For example, one study found that men who take more than 7 multivitamin tablets per week may have a higher risk of getting advanced prostate cancer.
Some research has suggested that men who take aspirin daily for a long time might have a lower risk of getting and dying from prostate cancer, but more research is needed to confirm this.
Doctors agree that the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test is not a perfect test for finding prostate cancer early. It misses some cancers, and in other cases the PSA level is high when cancer isn’t present. Researchers are now studying several new blood and urine tests to see if they might be better at finding prostate cancer early.
Many newer treatments for prostate cancer are being developed, and current treatment methods are being improved.
Surgery: Doctors are improving the surgery techniques used to treat prostate cancer. The goal is to remove all of the cancer while lowering the risk of complications and side effects from the surgery.
Radiation treatment: Better technology is making it possible to aim radiation more precisely than in the past. The goal is to treat only the prostate gland and any cancer just outside the gland. Studies are going on to find out which techniques are best for which patients.
New computer programs allow doctors to better plan the radiation doses and approaches for both external radiation therapy and brachytherapy.
Newer treatments for early-stage cancers: Researchers are now studying newer forms of treatment for early-stage prostate cancer, either as the first treatment or as treatment after unsuccessful radiation treatment.
One treatment, known as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), destroys cancer cells by heating them with highly focused ultrasonic beams. While it has been used more in Europe, it has only recently become available in the United States. Studies are now going on to find out if it is safe and effective.
Nutrition and lifestyle changes: Some early research has found that in men with a rising PSA after surgery or radiation therapy, drinking pomegranate juice or taking a pomegranate extract may slow the time it takes for the PSA level to double. Larger studies are now trying to see if these substances affect prostate cancer growth.
Some good early results have also been reported with flaxseed supplements, which seemed to slow the rate at which prostate cancer cells multiplied. More research is needed to confirm this finding.
Another study found that men who choose not to have treatment for their localized prostate cancer may be able to slow its growth with major lifestyle changes. The men in the study ate a vegan diet (no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products) and exercised a lot. They also went to support groups and yoga. After a year the men saw a slight drop in their PSA level. It isn’t known if this effect will last since the study only followed the men for a year. Also, some men may find it hard to make these lifestyle changes.
Hormone treatment: Several newer forms of hormone therapy have been developed in recent years.
Immunotherapy: Doctors are now looking for ways to boost the body’s immune response to fight prostate cancer.
One way to do this is with special vaccines that help the immune system attack the cancer cells. Several vaccines are now being studied.
Another approach is newer drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors. These drugs basically take the brakes off the immune system, which seems to help it attack cancer cells. These drugs have shown a lot of promise in treating some other types of cancer, and they are now being studied for use against prostate cancer.
Blood vessel growth: In order for cancers to grow, blood vessels must grow to nourish the cancer cells. This process is called angiogenesis. Drugs that stop or slow the growth of these blood vessels have been studied for use against prostate cancer.
Preventing or treating spread of cancer to the bones: Several newer medicines can help prevent or treat prostate cancer spread to the bones.
Doctors are also looking at radiofrequency ablation (RFA) for treating bone pain. RFA has been used for many years to treat tumors in other organs such as the liver. Its use for bone pain is still fairly new, but early results are promising.
Last Medical Review: 01/09/2015
Last Revised: 02/09/2016