In 2015, an estimated 220,800 men in the US will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. It is the most common cancer in men after skin cancer, with about 1 in 7 men receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis during his lifetime.
Prostate cancer is often a very survivable disease. Close to 100% of men are still alive 5 years after diagnosis, and nearly 2.9 million prostate cancer survivors are alive today. But the disease can be an adamant foe when it progresses to an advanced stage.
The American Cancer Society is currently funding 76 studies totaling approximately $28 million for prostate cancer research. These efforts include:
Understanding the Biology of Prostate Cancer
Because prostate cancer is so common, finding better ways to prevent, detect, and treat the disease has the potential to benefit a significant number of men. The first task is to better understand how prostate cancer develops and grows, the details of which remain somewhat of a mystery.
Society-funded researcher John Wilkinson, PhD, is studying how a protein called apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) and its cellular partners work together to help prostate cancer cells grow. With this information, the hope is new drugs could be designed to more effectively target and kill prostate cancer cells.
Similarly, Ilir Agalliu, MD, ScD, is examining the complex role of insulin and insulin-like growth factors in aggressive prostate cancers. He is looking at the part they play in cancer progression and recurrence. Such insights could lead to biological markers that predict who’s at risk for aggressive prostate cancer and possibly targets for new drugs to prevent and treat the disease.
Treating Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death among men, after lung cancer. However, modern treatments allow many prostate cancers to be cured. New therapies are crucially needed to combat stubborn prostate cancers that spread to other parts of the body and aggressive tumors that stop responding to standard treatments.
Society grantee Andrew Hsieh, MD, has discovered how a protein called mTOR goes haywire and helps prostate cancer cells grow and invade healthy tissues, a process called metastasis. Current mTOR inhibitors have been unable to fully block mTOR, so researchers are now testing experimental drugs to more completely stop mTOR from working.
Researchers funded by the Society are also searching for ways to outsmart prostate cancer cells that become resistant to hormone therapy. For instance, Scott Dehm, PhD, is studying the changes that occur in the target of hormone therapy – the androgen receptor – that allow it to develop an intractable resistance to hormone-blocking drugs. The goal is to develop new hormone-targeted drugs that work better and longer to suppress prostate cancer growth.
Prostate Cancer Disparities
African American men are 63% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer compared to white men. They’re also more than twice as likely to die from the disease.
To help eliminate this disparity, Society-funded researcher Hong Xiao, PhD, is identifying and mapping the factors responsible for geographic and racial differences in the number of prostate cancer cases and deaths over a recent 25-year period in Florida. Researchers are also tracking the impact of PSA screening during that time. Florida’s Department of Health hopes to use the findings to improve its public awareness efforts and to make early detection resources more accessible for men at risk of dying from prostate cancer.
This snapshot of the Society’s current research grants in prostate cancer highlights our commitment to reducing the burden of this common disease.