Paving the way for better prostate cancer treatment

Since 2007, countries including Canada, the US and the UK have been raising awareness about men’s health and diseases such as prostate and testicular cancer as part of the Movember campaign. 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 led 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.

  • According to cancer.net, the five-year survival rate for most men with local prostate cancer is almost 100%. 98% are alive after ten years, and 96% live for at least 15 years.
  • For men diagnosed with prostate cancer that has spread nearby, the five-year survival rate is around 70%.
  • For men diagnosed with prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is 29%.
  • According to Cancer Research UK, more than 11,000 patients still die from the disease every year. In 2014 13% of all male cancer deaths were from prostate cancer.
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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.

Cancer is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons – examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. 

To find out more about our ground-breaking work or if you are interested in collaborating with the University around cancer treatment, visit our cancer research beacon page.