A study of an experimental prostate cancer drug showed dramatic results that have thrilled researchers: The drug shrank prostate tumors and doubled survival rates in more than 70 percent of patients with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. The test subjects were men whose cancer had not responded to other treatments, and who had a life expectancy of about a year.
Although the study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology [subscription required], covered only 21 patients, the drug is now being tested in more than 250 men with what appears to be similar results, experts said. “There is a general sense in the prostate cancer community that this agent is extremely promising and is very likely to have an important role in the management of prostate cancer patients,” said Dr. Howard M. Sandler [Los Angeles Times]. Experts say the drug could reach the doctors’ offices by 2011.
The drug, called abiraterone, goes a step beyond the “medical castration” that is already used as a treatment for aggressive prostate cancers, where a drug blocks the production of testosterone and other sex hormones in the testes. (While this treatment is often effective against aggressive tumors, researchers recently declared that it’s harmful to patients in early stages of the disease.)
However, the men in the new study had a form of prostate cancer in which researchers believe the tumor tissue is able to produce its own supply of the hormones that fuel the disease…. “Abiraterone works not only in blocking the generation of these hormones in the testes, but also elsewhere in the body, including generation of the hormones in the cancer itself,” [lead researcher Johann] de Bono said [Reuters].
Some of the patients have been on the drug for over two and a half years, and many have reported a significant improvement in the quality of their lives. Some were able to stop taking morphine for the relief of pain caused by the spread of the disease to their bones [BBC News]. Says test subject Simon Bush: “My symptoms virtually disappeared…. It has been absolutely phenomenal” [The Independent].