Paving the way for better prostate cancer treatment

Over the last decade, we have made significant progress in improving prostate cancer survival rates. Now, 86.6% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer in England survive their disease for five years or more. Here we meet Catharine West, Professor of Radiation Biology at The University of Manchester who tells us about the discovery of a new targeted and improved form of prostate cancer treatment, which she developed with University colleagues.

We recently found a way to identify men with locally advanced prostate cancer who are less likely to respond well to treatment. The team created a method of selecting prostate cancer patients who would benefit from treatments which target oxygen-deficient (hypoxic) tumours.

Tumour hypoxia is associated with a poor prognosis in prostate cancer: the lower the oxygen, the greater the resistance to treatment and the more likely a tumour will spread.

The researchers discovered a 28-gene signature that accurately identifies hypoxic tumour tissue in patients with aggressive prostate cancer. The signature was derived by analysing human cells in the lab and patient survival data.

The signature was validated using data from across the world in 11 prostate cancer cohorts and a phase-III bladder cancer trial that randomised patients to be treated by radiotherapy alone or with hypoxia-targeted treatment.

Survival rates of men diagnosed with prostate cancer

Over the last decade we have made significant progress to improve prostate cancer survival rates.

  • In males in the UK, prostate cancer is the most common cancer, with around 52,300 new cases every year (2016-2018).
  • In the 1970s, a quarter of men diagnosed with prostate cancer survived their disease beyond ten years, now it's more than 8 in 10.
  • According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 12,000 prostate cancer deaths in the UK every year, that's 33 every day (2017-2019).
  • Prostate cancer survival in the UK has tripled in the last 40 years, from 25% - 84%.
Professor Catharine West

Professor Catharine West

Catharine West

Professor of Radiation Biology

Division of Cancer Science

View academic profile

A new phase for treating the disease

Our study could pave the way for new targeted approaches to treatment that could improve these survival rates further.

We know that 90% of prostate cancer patients are diagnosed with localised cancer, which has a highly variable course of disease progression. And we know that combining hypoxia-targeting treatment with radiotherapy improves the local control of tumours and survival of patients with head, neck and bladder cancers.

There currently is no clinically validated method of selecting prostate cancer patients who would benefit from hypoxia-modifying treatment.

This study builds on work to identify possible ways of measuring hypoxia in prostate cancer using gene signatures.

Though there is some way to go before this can be used clinically, it’s a significant development and could signal a new phase in treating this disease within a few years.

The study was funded by Prostate Cancer UK with support from the Movember Foundation and National Institute for Health Research Manchester Biomedical Research Centre.

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