Advanced Prostate Cancer
Next to lung cancer, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men. Currently, statistics indicate that one in nine American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their lifetime. Advanced prostate cancer is prostate cancer that has moved outside of the prostate.
There are two classifications of advanced prostate cancer: locally advanced prostate cancer, and metastatic prostate cancer. Locally advanced prostate cancer is cancer that has moved outside the prostate, but remains close to the prostate gland. In this instance, cancer may have spread to adjoining tissue, the seminal vesicles, or pelvic lymph nodes. Generally, locally advanced prostate cancer can be treated surgically (prostatectomy – removal of the prostate), with Cryotherapy, or Radiation Therapy.
Metastatic prostate cancer is cancer that has moved to distant areas of the body, and is no longer locally contained. Metastatic prostate cancer is diagnosed when cancer moves outside the prostate capsule into distant areas of the lymphatic system, bones, and organs, such as the lungs or brain.
Treatment options for advanced prostate cancer
With early detection, there are several options available to treat prostate cancer, especially if the cancer has remained inside the prostate. Currently, there are no cures for advanced prostate cancer. However, there are several treatment options to slow down the cancer’s progress, and to relieve symptoms.
Hormone Therapy for advanced prostate cancer
The growth and spread of prostate cancer is fueled by the hormone testosterone. The goal of hormone therapy, also known as androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), or androgen ablation, is to inhibit androgen production in the testicles, deplete testosterone levels in the body, and subsequently diminish the promotion of cancer growth by this hormone. At the same time, androgen therapy aims to reduce tumor size, and to lower prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels in the bloodstream. For advanced prostate cancer patients, hormone therapy is generally their first line of treatment.
There are several types of medications approved for hormone therapy treatment: Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) analogues, Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) antagonists, and Antiandrogens.
Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone analogues
Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone analogs are commonly used by men to treat advanced prostate cancer. These medications work to reduce testosterone production in the body by affecting the pituitary gland’s ability to produce testosterone. Popular analog medications include Lupron and Eligard.
Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone antagonists
Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone antagonists are also indicated to treat advanced prostate cancer. Similar to LHRH analogs, antagonists are designed to lower testosterone levels. Firmagon is a common LHRH antagonist.
Antiandrogens are medications designed to mitigate the effects of testosterone by blocking androgen receptors in the body. Antiandrogens are oftentimes prescribed in conjunction with LHRH medications. Commonly prescribed antiandrogens include Zytiga, Xtandi, Yonsa, and Erleada.
While advanced prostate cancer is not cured by hormone therapy, progression of the disease can be slowed. During the course of treatment, the PSA level in some men may begin to rise. There may also be indications that the cancer is spreading. When prostate cancer becomes resistant to hormone therapy, the cancer may become identified as castration-resistant prostate cancer. When PSA levels rise and cancer has been found to spread far beyond the prostate, even with hormone therapy, the cancer will be identified as Metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.
Immunotherapy is a treatment option designed to use the patient’s own immune system to combat disease. This process is done by activating immune cells to target and destroy cancer cells. In simple terms, this is accomplished by harvesting dendritic immune cells, exposing them to a molecule engineered to target cancer cells, and injecting them back into the patient’s body. This molecule, and treatment option, is called Provenge. Immunotherapy is indicated for men with advanced prostate cancer who has seen cancer growth following androgen deprivation therapy. These men will also have little to no prostate cancer symptoms.
Provenge immunotherapy involves several minimally invasive steps that are performed in-office:
- Blood will be drawn from the patient to capture immune cells.
- The blood samples will be shipped, overnight, to Dendreon labs, the manufacturer of Provenge.
- At the laboratory, the immune cells will be exposed to Provenge molecules. Once completed, the modified “vaccine” will be shipped back to the provider for immediate infusion into the patient.
- Provenge is infused into the patient in three pre-determined doses. Each dose will be scheduled for infusion over the course of several weeks. Typically, the provider will allow one to two weeks between doses.
When prostate cancer spreads into bone
For many patients, advanced prostate cancer can metastasize into bone. This will be verified through a bone scan or an Axumin PET scan. When prostate cancer moves into the bone, it is still termed ‘prostate cancer’ since this is where the cancer originated.
Xofigo is an IV injection indicated for patients whose cancer has moved into bone. These patients are also experiencing symptoms, and are no longer responding to androgen deprivation therapy. Because Xofigo is a radioactive medication, it is administered alone – without other treatment modalities. Due to the nature of this drug, patients will be advised of important steps and precautions before starting Xofigo.
Over time, some patients may no longer respond to androgen deprivation therapy. Chemotherapy is another viable treatment option that is designed to destroy cancer cells. There are several chemotherapy medications that have been FDA approved to specifically target advanced prostate cancer. These drugs work to prevent prostate cancer cells from dividing and multiplying. When this treatment is advised, a urologist will refer the patient to a qualified medical oncologist.
If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, or have a family history of prostate cancer, contact Urology Austin to schedule an appointment.