Research into treatments for prostate cancer
This section contains information about research into treatments for prostate cancer. It includes
- A quick guide to what's on this page
- Why we need research
- Treatment choices for early prostate cancer
- Testing how quickly a cancer may grow
- Radiotherapy research for prostate cancer
- Hormone therapy
- Cryotherapy (cryosurgery)
- High intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU)
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
- Biological therapies
- Drugs for hormone resistant cancer
- Preventing drug resistance
- Blood tests for cancer spread
- PC-SPES and PC-HOPE (herbal treatments)
- Reducing side effects of treatment
- Symptoms that mean cancer has come back
- About research trials
- More about prostate cancer research
Research into treating prostate cancer
All treatments must be fully researched before they can be adopted as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that we can be sure they work better than the treatments we already use. We also need to know that they are safe.
First of all, treatments are developed and tested in laboratories. Only after we know that they are likely to be safe are they tested in people, in clinical trials. Cancer Research UK supports a lot of UK laboratory research into cancer and also supports many UK and international clinical trials.
For prostate cancer, researchers are looking into
- Treatment choices
- Hormone therapy
- Freezing therapy (cryotherapy)
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
- High intensity ultrasound
There is also research into herbal treatments, reducing treatment side effects, and finding out which symptoms may show that a prostate cancer has come back.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating prostate cancer section.
All treatments have to be fully researched before they can be adopted as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that
- We can be sure they work
- We can be sure they work better than the treatments that are available at the moment
- They are known to be safe
First of all, treatments are developed and tested in laboratories. For ethical and safety reasons, experimental treatments must be tested in the laboratory before they can be tried in patients. If a treatment described here is said to be at the laboratory stage of research, it is not ready for patients and is not available either within or outside the NHS. Cancer Research UK supports a lot of UK laboratory research into cancer.
Tests in patients are called clinical trials. Cancer Research UK supports many UK and international clinical trials.
The trials and research section has information about what trials are including information about the 4 phases of trials. If you are interested in taking part in a clinical trial for prostate cancer, visit our searchable database of clinical trials. If there is a trial you are interested in, print it off and take it to your own specialist. If the trial is suitable for you, your doctor will need to make the referral to the research team. The database has information about open trial, closed trials and trial results.
All the new approaches covered here are the subject of ongoing research. Until studies are completed and new effective treatments are found, these treatments cannot be used as standard therapy for cancer of the prostate.
It can be difficult for doctors to decide on the best treatment for prostate cancer that is completely inside the prostate (localised cancer). Options for treatment include surgery, radiotherapy or careful monitoring with check ups (active monitoring). Research studies are comparing these three treatments, and aiming to find out which works best, and how many men with prostate cancer might never need treatment.
A trial looked at HIFU treatment for the largest area of early prostate cancer to see if it could delay it from spreading. The researchers hoped that this would reduce the need for other treatments that can cause more severe side effects. HIFU is high frequency ultrasound treatment. The researchers found that HIFU seemed to control the cancer well for a year after treatment. But we need to wait and see whether it can control the cancer in the long term.
The Mapped trial is looking at whether a drug called dutasteride can control prostate cancer in men who are having active surveillance.
There is detailed information about trials for prostate cancer on our clinical trials database.
In November 2013 the results of a trial into a prostate cancer test called Prolaris were announced in the UK. This happened at the National Cancer Research Institute conference. The trial was supported by Cancer Research UK and other organisations. It found that the test can measure the activity of particular genes (called cell cycle genes) in the prostate cancer cells. This can help doctors and researchers to know whether the cancer is a slow growing cancer that could safely be monitored. And it could show whether the cancer is more quickly growing and so needs treatment.
Looking at the activity of the genes gives an overall cell cycle progression score (CCP score). This seems to be able to accurately predict whether a cancer will develop quickly or more slowly. But doctors say that they still need to work out the best way of using this test to help patients. They need to find out how often to do the test to detect changes in gene activity. And they also need to shorten the time it takes to get the results. So this test is not currently available as a standard test for prostate cancer.
Research into surgery for prostate cancer is looking at
A trial called LopeRA is comparing three operations for prostate cancer. It is comparing open surgery, keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery and robot assisted surgery for prostate cancer that has not spread. Doctors usually remove localised prostate cancer with surgery. There are several ways to do this, and no one is quite sure yet which one is best.
Open surgery is when the surgeon makes a cut in the abdomen, or between the testicles and back passage, to remove the prostate. Laparoscopic surgery is when the surgeon makes several smaller cuts and puts surgical instruments and a camera through these small holes. The surgeon uses these to look inside, find and remove the prostate.
Robot assisted surgery is similar to laparoscopic surgery. But the surgeon controls the instruments and camera using a machine (robot). It is sometimes called da Vinci surgery. Some of the aims of the trial include how long you stay in hospital, the side effects, and to see if the cancer comes back after surgery.
If you have prostate cancer that is completely inside the prostate (localised prostate cancer), you may have surgery to remove the whole prostate (a radical prostatectomy). To help plan your surgery, your surgeon looks at scans taken when the cancer was diagnosed. The scans include an ultrasound of your prostate through your back passage (transrectal ultrasound), and an MRI scan. These scans are helpful but cannot always clearly show the difference between healthy and cancerous tissue.
The DMAPS pilot study is looking at a type of MRI scan called diffusion weighted MRI (DWI MRI) to see if it can show up areas of cancer more clearly. This would help the surgeon to more accurately remove the cancer.
Radiotherapy is already an effective treatment for prostate cancer. Research continues to try to improve cure rates and reduce side effects. There is research into the following areas.
- Changing the external radiotherapy dose
- Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)
- Image guided radiotherapy (IGRT)
- Stereotactic radiotherapy and radiosurgery
- Radiotherapy after surgery
- Finding out about radiotherapy side effects
- Internal radiotherapy for cancer spread to the bone
- Finding out how radiotherapy affects the immune system
Researchers are looking at different ways of giving the total dose of radiotherapy for men with prostate cancer. The CHHIP trial has found that giving a higher dose of radiotherapy per session (fraction), but fewer fractions, is as safe as standard radiotherapy and does not cause more side effects. The next phase of this trial aims to find out whether the higher doses in fewer fractions is better at curing the cancer than the standard treatment.
The PIVOTAL trial is comparing 2 different ways of giving radiotherapy for prostate cancer that may have spread to the lymph glands in the pelvis. The pelvis is the area surrounded by your hip bones. The trial aims to confirm whether is safe to give high doses of radiotherapy to the prostate and the lymph glands in the pelvis. It also wants to find out more about the side effects of having radiotherapy to the prostate only and having radiotherapy to the prostate gland and pelvis.
Studies are taking place in the UK of a type of radiotherapy called intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT). IMRT shapes the radiation beams to closely fit the area where the cancer is. But it also changes the intensity of radiotherapy so that the dose can be varied across the radiotherapy area. IMRT can also create an indented (concave) area within the radiotherapy field to avoid structures that would be damaged by the treatment and reduce side effects.
Research has found that IMRT can reduce side effects and may give a better chance of curing the cancer than conventional radiotherapy. Researchers are carrying out trials to further improve the use of IMRT.
Image guided radiotherapy has been introduced into the UK in the past few years. You have X-rays and scans (images) immediately before or during a radiotherapy treatment session. This helps the treatment team to target the radiotherapy treatment more accurately. It reduces the dose of radiation to normal tissues. Some people have small markers put into the area of the tumour. The markers show up on X-ray and allow the radiographer to target the tumour accurately.
The DELINEATE trial is looking at using image guided radiotherapy (IGRT). The doctors give a higher dose of radiotherapy to the area of cancer in the prostate gland, while giving the standard dose to the rest of the prostate. They want to see if this kind of treatment is possible and see whether it reduces the side effects.
Stereotactic radiotherapy gives radiotherapy in fewer sessions, using smaller radiation fields and higher doses than conventional external beam radiotherapy techniques. The radiotherapy machine moves around the body to give the treatment from many different angles. The PACE trial is comparing stereotactic radiotherapy with either conventional radiotherapy or surgery. It is for men with prostate cancer that has not grown outside the prostate gland (localised prostate cancer).
Some trials are using very precisely targeted radiotherapy to give a very high dose of radiation to the tumour in a small number of doses. This type of treatment is called radiosurgery.
At the moment, many men who have removal of the prostate gland (radical prostatectomy) for early prostate cancer will not have any further treatment unless their PSA level rises. The RADICALS trial is looking into whether it would be better to give all men radiotherapy after radical prostatectomy, whatever their PSA level. It is also investigating whether having hormone therapy as well works better than radiotherapy on its own for this stage of prostate cancer, and if so, how long you should take it for.
A study called PRECIOUS is looking into how doctors and nurses collect information about the side effects of radiotherapy for prostate cancer. Researchers have developed a questionnaire which people answer on a computer. They want to test the questionnaire to find out how good it is at helping doctors understand and treat the side effects.
Radiation kills cells by damaging the DNA inside them. Having radiotherapy kills cancer cells, but also damages nearby healthy cells close to the area being treated. A study is looking at DNA and tissue damage in men having radiotherapy for prostate cancer. The researchers will look for signs of cell damage and repair in blood samples from men having different types of radiotherapy for prostate cancer. The men taking part will also fill out questionnaires about any side effects. Doctors hope that this research will tell them more about how radiation damages DNA during treatment and give them better ways of predicting side effects. This might help them to improve treatment in the future.
The VoxTox study is looking at the side effects of radiotherapy for prostate cancer and some other types of cancer. The researchers want to understand more about radiotherapy side effects and to work out how much radiation reaches the surrounding healthy tissue.
In Belfast, there was a small trial of internal radiotherapy for men whose prostate cancer had spread to the bones, and was no longer responding to hormone treatment. The 14 men that took part in this phase 1 trial had docetaxel chemotherapy, steroids, and rhenium-186. Rhenium-186 is a radioactive substance which doctors think will target the cancer cells in the bone, and stop them growing. The researchers found that they could safely use this combination of treatment. They hope to do larger trials of chemotherapy and this type of internal radiotherapy in the future.
Results from the ALSYMPCA trial were released in 2013. It found that the radioactive injection radium 223 (also called Alpharadin or Xofigo) can help some men with advanced prostate cancer to live a few months longer than current internal radiotherapy treatments. It also seemed to cause very few side effects. The trial looked at this treatment for men with prostate cancer that had spread to the bone and where hormone therapy is no longer working. Longer term results will be released in the future.
The Prostate Radiotherapy Pneumovax Study (PRP) is a small study looking at how radiotherapy affects the immune system of men with early prostate cancer. Men with prostate cancer on this study have already started hormone therapy. Researchers take blood tests from some men before they have radiotherapy and from some men before, during and after radiotherapy.
All the men on the PRP trial have vaccinations against a particular type of pneumonia at different stages of their treatment. Blood tests aim to show how the immune system responds to the vaccine before or after radiotherapy. The researchers hope that the results from this study will help them to develop a cancer vaccine to treat prostate cancer.
You can find out more about radiotherapy trials for prostate cancer on our clinical trials database.
Cancer of the prostate depends on the male hormone testosterone for its growth. Hormone therapies that lower the levels of testosterone are a common treatment for prostate cancer. If the amount of testosterone in the body is lowered, it can reduce the chance of an early prostate cancer coming back after radiotherapy treatment. It can also slow the growth of an advanced prostate cancer or shrink it. Sometimes then the cancer symptoms disappear completely. There is information here about
- New hormone therapies
- Timing of hormone therapy
- Hormone therapy in combination with other treatments
Doctors are continuously looking for new hormone therapies to treat prostate cancer. These therapies include
Many of the current hormone drugs cause a rise in testosterone when they are first taken. So prostate cancer symptoms tend to get worse before they improve. A drug called abarelix does not seem to do this. Research so far shows that abarelix works more quickly on prostate cancer and does not seem to cause an initial rise in testosterone levels. Similar drugs are also being tested, including ganirelix and cetrorelix.
The AFFIRM trial looked at a new hormone therapy drug called enzalutamide (Xtandi) for prostate cancer that had got worse despite hormone therapy and chemotherapy. Enzalutamide blocks the receptors that testosterone uses to get into prostate cancer cells. It is a type of hormone therapy called an androgen receptor antagonist. The AFFIRM trial and other trials have found that enzalutamide helps men with prostate cancer to live longer. It is now licensed and available in the UK.
Cancer Research UK is funding studies using oestrogen patches to see if they can control advanced prostate cancer as well as standard hormone therapies. One study reported in 2013. The trial compared the standard hormone therapy treatment, luteinising hormone injections, to oestrogen patches. 254 men took part and they had locally advanced prostate cancer or prostate cancer that had spread.
The trial found that the oestrogen patches were as good as luteinising hormone injections at lowering the levels of testosterone. Researchers are now doing a large randomised controlled clinical trial called the PATCH trial. It aims to find out whether oestrogen patches are as good at stopping the growth of advanced prostate cancer as standard hormone treatments.
The video below shows you what oestrogen patches look like and how you put them on:
View a transcript of the video showing you what oestrogen patches look like and how you put them on (opens in a new window)
A hormone therapy called abiraterone (Zytiga) is used to treat advanced prostate cancer. Abiraterone acetate stops an enzyme in your body called CYP17 from working. If CYP17 can't work, your body cannot make testosterone.
A phase 3 trial called COU-AA-301 recruited 1,195 men with prostate cancer that had continued to grow despite other treatment, including chemotherapy. The results so far show that men who had abiraterone with prednisolone (a steroid) lived over 4 months longer on average than the men who had the placebo with prednisolone. Another phase 3 trial called COU-AA-302 aims to find out how well the combination of abiraterone and prednisolone works for men with advanced prostate cancer who have had hormone therapy, but not chemotherapy. This trial has finished recruiting patients, but the results are not known yet.
The STAMPEDE trial is looking at treatment with abiraterone combined with other treatments for prostate cancer. The trial is for men whose prostate cancer has spread outside the prostate gland. The aim of the trial is to see which treatment is best for prostate cancer that has spread outside the prostate gland.
If you have abiraterone, you usually have a steroid drug with it. This is to reduce some of the side effects of abiraterone such as high blood pressure. A trial is looking at different steroid drugs to see which is better at reducing these side effects. This trial has now closed and we are waiting for the results.
Orteronel (TAK 700) is an experimental drug. It is a type of hormone therapy, which is looking promising in trials of men with advanced prostate cancer. The NEPTUNE trial is looking at combining orteronel with another hormone therapy called leuproprelin (Prostap). When given together, these drugs work by reducing testosterone levels in the body, which may stop cancer growing. The aim of this trial is to see if giving orteronel and leuproprelin for 6 months can reduce the risk of cancer coming back after surgery to remove the prostate. This trial has now closed and we are waiting for the results.
The SAKK 08 11 trial is also looking at Orteronel for advanced prostate cancer, to see how it works and how it affects mens' quality of life. This trial has now closed and we are waiting for the results.
Some clinical trials are looking into the timing of hormone therapy.
A 10 year European trial found that 3 years of hormone therapy after radiotherapy reduced the chance of the cancer coming back. The trial was for men who had stage T1 or T2 prostate cancer that was grade 3, or they had stage T3 or T4 of any grade.
Some trials have shown that intermittent hormone therapy gives reduced side effects compared to continuous hormone therapy for men with advanced prostate cancer. Intermittent therapy means having hormone therapy for 6 months for example, then having a break for a while and then having it for another 6 months. Some trials have shown that it may not control the cancer for as long though.
A European trial looked at intermittent hormone therapy for advanced prostate cancer. It wanted to check whether giving hormone therapy for 7 months and then stopping could control the cancer as well as continuous therapy. The trial results did not show that intermittent therapy worked as well as continuous treatment. The researchers found that the average length of time men lived after being randomised into treatment groups was 5.8 years for the continuous therapy group and 5.1 years for the intermittent therapy group. Three months after being randomised, men in the intermittent group reported fewer problems with getting an erection and improved mental health. But after 15 months, there was not any real difference in quality of life between the 2 groups.
The Intercontinental trial compared intermittent hormone therapy with continuous hormone therapy for prostate cancer that had continued to grow after radiotherapy. The trial team found no difference in the amount of time men lived when they compared the 2 treatment groups. But for many of the men having intermittent hormone therapy the side effects were reduced and they had a slightly better quality of life than the men who had continuous hormone therapy.
In 2011, the 10 year TROG trial in New Zealand and Australia reported that hormone therapy should be given for at least 6 months alongside radiotherapy for locally advanced prostate cancer. But the researchers suggested that giving the hormone therapy treatment for longer than 6 months did not give any additional benefit. We need more studies to confirm this.
The GREAT study is looking at giving the hormone therapy drug triptorelin every 6 months instead of every 3 months to treat prostate cancer. Doctors want to see how well 6 monthly triptorelin works and if men prefer having treatment every 6 months instead of every 3 months.
The EDVART trial is looking at whether the hormone therapy Decapeptyl (triptorelin) can shrink the prostate gland before radiotherapy for early prostate cancer. Shrinking the prostate gland before treatment can help the radiotherapy to work better. The study aims to find out if Decapeptyl works as well as Goserilin (Zoladex) at reducing the size of the prostate gland. It also aims to learn more about the side effects of Decapeptyl.
Hormone treatment often works well for cancer that has spread outside the prostate gland. But doctors think that using it with other treatments could work better. The STAMPEDE trial is studying the combination of hormone therapy with chemotherapy, bisphosphonates or celecoxib for men who have prostate cancer that has grown outside the prostate gland. It is also for men whose prostate cancer has started to grow again after treatment with radiotherapy or surgery.
The RADICALS trial is looking at whether giving hormone therapy with radiotherapy helps to stop the cancer coming back, in men who have had surgery for early prostate cancer.
You can find out more about hormone therapy trials for prostate cancer on our clinical trials database. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results.
In the past, chemotherapy drugs were not widely used to treat prostate cancer because they didn't seem to work very well. But over the past few years clinical trials have found that mitoxantrone and docetaxel (Taxotere) can work well for prostate cancer that has spread and stopped responding to hormone therapy. Research includes the following areas.
The Trapeze trial is looking at combined treatments for prostate cancer that has spread to the bones. It is comparing different combinations of treatment including docetaxel (Taxotere) chemotherapy, the bisphosphonate zoledronic acid (Zometa) and strontium 89 radiotherapy.
A small trial tested melphalan chemotherapy for prostate cancer that was no longer responding to hormone therapy. Melphalan can cause a severe drop in your blood cell counts, which limits the dose you can have. This study used the men's own stem cells to boost their immune system after chemotherapy, allowing doctors to give a higher dose of melphalan. The researchers wanted to find out the highest dose of melphalan that men could have with a transplant of stem cells. They also wanted to see how well this treatment worked it for hormone resistant prostate cancer. They also wanted to see if the hormone therapy would start working again afterwards.
The study team found that melphalan did work for prostate cancer, but the side effects were quite bad. They also noted that the hormone resistant prostate cancer in many of the men who took part responded when they restarted hormone therapy. This was an early trial in just 23 men.
A newer drug that researchers are looking at is cabazitaxel (Jevtana). The international TROPIC trial compared cabazitaxel with mitoxantrone for men who had advanced prostate cancer that had continued to grow, despite hormone therapy and chemotherapy with docetaxel. Men in the trial had prednisolone and either mitoxantrone or cabazitaxel. The results showed that the men who had cabazitaxel lived an average of 3 months longer than the men who had mitoxantrone. The men who had cabazitaxel were more likely to get infections because their white blood cell count was low.
The CANTATA trial is comparing cabazitaxel with docetaxel for prostate cancer that has spread. The men taking part have prostate cancer that has started to get worse after having both hormone therapy and docetaxel. Some trials are looking at combining cabazitaxel with other types of chemotherapy.
The GenCab study is trying to find out more about how cabazitaxel works for men with advanced prostate cancer and is no longer responding to hormone therapy. Researchers will take blood samples and samples of cancer tissue from men who are having cabazitaxel. They will look at the samples to look for clues as to whether or not the treatment will continue to work.
Doctors continue to study different combinations of chemotherapy drugs, different doses, or different sequences in which drugs are given. The aim of this type of research is to find more effective ways of treating prostate cancer with chemotherapy. There is detailed information about chemotherapy trials for prostate cancer on our clinical trials database. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results.
Bone pain and damage can be a problem in advanced prostate cancer that has spread to the bones. The growth of the cancer cells starts to break down the bone tissue. Bone secondaries could lead to pain or fractures. In the spine they can also cause pressure on your spinal cord. Bisphosphonates can help to strengthen the bones and control bone pain. Some trials have looked at how well bisphosphonates work to stop or slow down the damage caused to bone by bone secondaries. Trials are also comparing different types of bisphosphonate to see which works best.
The RIB trial was a Cancer Research UK supported trial. It compared treatment with the bisphosphonate ibandronate to a single dose of external radiotherapy to see which is best at controlling pain from bone secondaries. In 2012 the trial team reported that there was little difference between the 2 treatments. They found that a single dose of ibandronate can be a useful treatment for pain caused by prostate cancer that has spread to the bone.
The Trapeze trial is looking at the bisphosphonate drug zoledronic acid (Zometa) in combination with chemotherapy and the internal radiotherapy strontium 89. The researchers want to find out how well these treatments work together and what the side effects are.
You can find information about bisphosphonates for prostate cancer trials on our clinical trials database. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results.
Cryosurgery is also called cryotherapy or cryoablation. This is a way of getting rid of prostate cancer that is completely within the prostate. It uses freezing probes to kill cancerous tissue.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued guidelines in 2012 for treating prostate cancer. These say that cryosurgery for prostate cancer appears to be safe enough for prostate cancer that has just been diagnosed, or that has come back within the prostate after treatment. But we don't yet have enough evidence about the long term benefit or the effects on quality of life. So this treatment should only be used as part of clinical trials. There is detailed information about cryotherapy in the prostate cancer treatment section.
The CROP trial is comparing hormone therapy alone to cryotherapy followed by hormone therapy for prostate cancer that has come back after radiotherapy treatment. Researchers want to find out if there are long term benefits to having cryotherapy and how it affects men's quality of life. This trial is funded by Cancer Research UK.
When high frequency sound waves are concentrated on body tissues, those tissues heat up and die. Doctors have used high frequency focused ultrasound (HIFU) for prostate cancer that has just been diagnosed, or for cancer that has come back in the prostate gland after earlier treatment. There is information about HIFU for prostate cancer in this section of the website. It is only used as part of clinical trials.
Treatments such as surgery or radiotherapy for early prostate cancer can cause side effects such as erection problems and incontinence for some men. Doctors hope that HIFU may cause less side effects than other treatments. One trial looked at HIFU for just the areas of the prostate that contain cancer (focal ablation). The researchers found that focal ablation did not cause bad side effects. 42 men took part in the trial. 1 in 5 men had some pain passing urine after the treatment but this only lasted a few days. None of the men in the trial said they had urinary incontinence a year after treatment. Of the 35 men who said they were able to get an erection before treatment, 31 said this was the same a year after treatment.
There are a couple of other trials using HIFU for early prostate cancer. One trial is looking at whether using HIFU to treat only the largest area of early prostate cancer can delay the spread of cancer. This could delay the need for other treatments for a while and so reduce the side effects. The INDEX trial is looking at using HIFU to treat only the areas of cancer in the prostate that are at risk of spreading. Treating less of the prostate should mean a lower risk of side effects.
One trial is using HIFU after radiotherapy for men with prostate cancer that has started to grow again after treatment. This trial is for men whose cancer is completely contained within the prostate.
You can find detailed information about HIFU trials for prostate cancer on our clinical trials database. Or type 'HIFU' into the free text search.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses light to kill cancer cells. You first take a drug that makes your body cells sensitive to light. Then the doctor shines a very bright light onto the cancer cells. This activates the drug and kills the cells. We don't know yet how much it helps people with prostate cancer.
A large trial in Europe is looking at a type of PDT called vascular targeted photodynamic therapy (VTP). This trial has closed, and we are waiting for the results. Men were put into one of two groups. In one group they had VTP treatment. And in the other group, the doctor carefully monitored their cancer, and only treated it if it got worse (active surveillance). Doctors want to see how well VTP treats prostate cancer, as well as finding out more about the side effects.
Nanoknife is the name of a device that uses an electrical current to destroy areas of cancer. It is a type of focal therapy as it just treats the area of the prostate that contains cancer. The NEAT trial is looking to see how well Nanoknife works for some men with localised prostate cancer. This trial has now closed and we are waiting for the results.
Biological therapies are cancer drugs developed from natural body substances or they change the way that some chemicals work in the body. These treatments include
- Monoclonal antibodies
- Cancer growth blockers
- Drugs that block the cancer's blood supply
- PARP-1 inhibitors
- Gene therapy
- Vaccine therapy
Drugs called monoclonal antibodies (MABs) can recognise particular types of cancer cell and help the immune system to destroy them.
A monoclonal antibody called ipilimumab is used to treat melanoma skin cancer. Researchers want to see if it works for prostate cancer. A trial is looking at ipilimumab for prostate cancer that has stopped responding to hormone therapy. The trial aims to find out if ipilimumab helps men in this situation to live longer and to learn more about the side effects.
Some biological therapy drugs block the growth of cancer cells. Some are called endothelin blockers or endothelin receptor agonists. They work by blocking growth receptors called endothelin receptors. Some early results from trials have shown that endothelin blockers may be able to slow down the growth of cancer in the bone and delay the symptoms of secondary bone cancer for men with advanced prostate cancer.
Researchers have been studying several endothelin blockers, such as Atrasentan and YM598. But it will be some years before we know the full results.
Some drugs block a protein called clusterin. Researchers think that clusterin may help cancer cells to protect themselves from cancer drugs and stop the drugs working as well as they could. There is a trial looking at a clusterin blocker called custirsen (OGX-011). It is being used alongside chemotherapy for prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body and is not responding to hormone therapy. The trial is to find out whether adding custirsen to docetaxel chemotherapy and the steroid prednisolone improves this treatment.
The AFFINITY trial is also looking at custirsen for prostate cancer that has spread. The researchers are adding custirsen to cabazitaxel chemotherapy and prednisolone to see if it improves treatment for men whose cancer is no longer responding to hormone therapy and has got worse despite having docetaxel. This trial has now closed and we are waiting for the results.
Cancers need to grow their own blood vessels as they get bigger. Angiogenesis means the growth of new blood vessels. Drugs that stop cancers growing new blood vessels are called anti angiogenic drugs. For prostate cancer, those being tested include COX2 inhibitors and tasquinimod.
COX2 inhibitors stop the cancer cell producing a growth factor called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that stimulates blood vessel production. COX2 inhibitors are a type of non steroidal anti inflammatory drug (NSAID). Researchers think a COX2 inhibitor called celecoxib (Celebrex) may be useful in the future for treating prostate cancer. If celecoxib can reduce the amount of VEGF in prostate cancer cells it will mean that the cancer won't be able to grow.
The STAMPEDE trial is looking at treatment with celecoxib combined with other treatments for prostate cancer that has spread outside the prostate gland. The aim of the trial is to see which treatment is best. Early results from this trial found that celecoxib with hormone therapy did not work any better than hormone therapy alone.
A trial is looking at a drug called tasquinimod for prostate cancer that has spread to another part of the body (metastatic). The trial aims to find out how well tasquinimod works for prostate cancer that is no longer responding to hormone therapy.
PARP-1 inhibitors block a protein in cells called PARP. This protein is important for cells to repair their DNA. By blocking this protein, cancer cells can't repair themselves and they die.
Olaparib is a type of PARP-1 inhibitor. The TOPARP trial is looking to see if olaparib helps men with prostate cancer that has got worse despite treatment with hormone therapy and chemotherapy drugs called taxanes. This trial has now closed and we are waiting for the results.
Gene therapy is one of the newer approaches to cancer treatment and is in the very early stages of clinical trials. Cancer cells have abnormal genes. If researchers can get copies of the normal genes inside the cells to replace the abnormal genes, they may be able to use this to treat the cancer. One gene that is often abnormal in cancer cells is the P53 gene. This gene usually tells cells that are old and damaged to self destruct. Scientists call this self destruction apoptosis. Some cancer cells don't self destruct because they have an abnormal p53 gene. This is one reason why they can go on growing and dividing even with damaged genes.
Gene therapy is in the very early research stages and we don't know if it will work yet. The GDEPT trial looked at gene therapy for early stage prostate cancer. It found the safe dose for this drug. Another trial used GDEPT for prostate cancer that had continued to grow. It found that GDEPT seemed to help to control the cancer in some men but we need larger trials to confirm how well it works.
The AdUP trial is looking at gene therapy to treat prostate cancer that has come back after radiotherapy and hormone therapy (AdUP). The treatment uses an injection of a virus that has been genetically changed. Then patients have a pro drug called CB1954. A pro drug is a drug that only becomes active when given with another substance. A substance produced by the virus activates the CB1954. The trial aims to find out how safe the treatment is and what side effects it causes.
Cancer vaccines are designed to try to stimulate the body's own immune system to fight cancer. A vaccine called sipuleucel-T (Provenge) is starting to be used for prostate cancer that has spread and standard hormone therapy treatments are not working. There is a European study trying to find out more about sipuleucel-T. This trial has closed and we are waiting for the results.
Other types of prostate cancer vaccines in trials have used viruses that are changed in the laboratory to contain prostate specific antigen (PSA). When the virus injection is given, the immune system reacts to the virus. It becomes sensitive to PSA and hopefully kills the prostate cancer cells that contain it.
A trial is looking at a new vaccine called PROSTVAC for prostate cancer that has spread. The men taking part have prostate cancer that scans or blood tests show is getting worse. But their cancer is not causing symptoms or only causing very mild symptoms. Some of the men will have GM-CSF alongside the vaccine. GM-CSF makes the body produce white blood cells, which may help the vaccine work better. The aims of the trial are to see if either PROSTVAC alone, or PROSTVAC and GM-CSF, is better than a dummy drug (placebo) to help men with prostate cancer live longer. They also want to find out more about the side effects of the vaccine.
If you are interested in finding out whether you can have vaccine treatment within a clinical trial, you could ask your specialist. This is mostly early stage research – phase 1 and 2 trials. That means that the research is looking at the safety of these new types of treatment or testing whether they are likely to work against prostate cancer. You can find out about biological therapy trials for prostate cancer on our clinical trials database. Early phase trials tend to be quite short running – over weeks or months. So if you are interested in vaccine trials, it may be worth checking the clinical trials database from time to time to see if new trials have opened.
Researchers are looking at 2 new treatments for prostate cancer when hormone therapy is no longer working (hormone resistant prostate cancer – HRPC). Pioglitazone is a drug normally used to treat diabetes. Fenofibrate treats high cholesterol. Researchers are studying these 2 drugs to see if they can keep the prostate cancer under control when hormone therapy is not working. These drugs do not have such severe side effects as the usual treatments for HRPC – steroids or chemotherapy.
Doctors think that some men with advanced prostate cancer may benefit more from the steroid dexamethasone than others. There is a trial looking at levels of a substance called interleukin 8 (IL8) in the body, and whether these levels affect how well dexamethasone works against prostate cancer. It is also trying to find out whether the dexamethasone affects the IL8 levels. This trial is no longer recruiting and we are waiting for the results.
The TRICREST trial is looking at a steroid drug called triamcinolone for prostate cancer that has stopped responding to hormone therapy. The men taking part have triamcinolone alongside hormone therapy.
The PREVAIL trial looked at a hormone therapy called enzalutamide for advanced prostate cancer. The men who took part had not already had chemotherapy. The researchers found that enzalutamide slowed down the growth of cancer and helped men live longer. It also delayed the need for chemotherapy. You can read the results of the PREVAIL trial on our clinical trials database.
Researchers are continually looking for ways to prevent cancer cells becoming resistant to treatments. Cancer Research UK researchers in Newcastle are studying a protein called NF-kB. This protein helps prostate cancer cells become resistant to various types of therapy. NF-kB is activated by a protein called PARP-1. The team hopes that by designing drugs to block the activity of PARP-1 they may develop a new generation of treatments for cancer.
Researchers are trying to develop a very sensitive test for finding small numbers of prostate cancer cells in blood samples. This could be used as a test to pick up cancer spread at a very early stage. But doctors are still not sure whether having a few prostate cancer cells in the bloodstream means that you will actually develop a secondary cancer. It is not yet clear how this test could be used in deciding treatment options.
PC-SPES is a combination of 8 herbs that is supposed to be active against prostate cancer. This product has received a lot of media attention in the past couple of years. But recent research by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the USA found that PC-SPES was contaminated with synthetic drugs. The drugs included diethylstilbestrol (which is known to be active against prostate cancer) and warfarin, which is an anti clotting medicine. Unknowingly taking extra doses of warfarin could be dangerous for people who are already taking it. The manufacturers withdrew PC-SPES and they have now gone out of business.
Another form of this herbal treatment, called PC-HOPE is now on sale. This is a cocktail of 10 herbs and is available on the web. We are not aware of any research that has tested whether this helps with prostate cancer or not. It looks as if both these herbal remedies contain plant oestrogens. So any effect they have is probably very similar to the hormone therapy that is routinely prescribed by prostate cancer specialists.
We have a page about PC-SPES and PC-HOPE.
Treatment for prostate cancer has side effects and doctors and researchers are looking for ways of reducing them.
- Side effects after surgery
- Hormone therapy side effects
- Radiotherapy side effects
- Research into erection problems after treatment
One long term side effect after surgery is a problem controlling the flow of urine (urinary incontinence). Doctors can help men in this situation by doing more surgery to fit a device that helps them control the flow of urine. This device is called an artificial urinary sphincter. It involves putting an inflatable ring around the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body (urethra). The ring is attached to a small pump in your scrotum that you use to deflate the ring when you want to pass urine.
The MASTER trial is comparing the artificial urinary sphincter with another device called a male sling. The male sling is a flexible net that is put around the urethra to support it. The male sling doesn't need a pump to work. The researchers want to compare these 2 devices and see if the male sling is as good as the artificial urinary sphincter.
The side effects of hormone therapy can include weight gain, tiredness and thinning of the bones. These can affect quality of life. We know from research that exercise and a change of eating habits may help lessen these side effects and so improve quality of life. One study is trying to find out more about whether a change of eating habits and exercise can help men having hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy can cause bone thinning. A phase 3 trial in America has found that the drug toremifene can reduce the risk of fractures. The trial compared toremifene with a placebo and found that just over 2 out of 100 men taking the toremifene (2%) developed a fracture. 5 out of 100 men taking the placebo (5%) developed a fracture. The bone density of the men taking toremifene also increased. The researchers also found that the men taking toremifene were more likely to develop a blood clot. Just over 2 out of 100 (2%) men taking toremifene developed a clot compared to 1 in 100 men taking the placebo (1%).
The MANCAN study is looking at ways to help men manage hot flushes and night sweats following treatment for prostate cancer. The men taking part in this study are having hormone treatment and have at least 10 hot flushes or night sweats a week.
One of the side effects of radiotherapy is that problems with passing urine can get worse. A trial is looking at helping men manage urinary symptoms after radiotherapy by teaching them certain exercises.
The HOT 2 trial is looking at whether using a high pressure oxygen treatment called hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy can help to relieve the long term side effects of having radiotherapy to the pelvic region.
One of the side effects of surgery for prostate cancer (prostatectomy) is that some men may still have problems getting erections. You may hear this called erectile dysfunction. This means you are not able to get an erect penis, or keep it erect enough for sexual activity. A trial looked at using a drug called tadalafil in men who had nerve sparing prostate surgery. The researchers compared the effects of taking tadalafil with a dummy drug (placebo) soon after surgery. The trial team found that taking tadalafil once a day after surgery helped men to keep their erectile function.
There is more information about treatment side effect trials for prostate cancer on our clinical trials database.
There is a study looking at symptoms caused by cancer coming back after treatment. After treatment for cancer of the breast, lung, prostate or bowel, you have follow up appointments with your specialist doctor. But after a few years, if you stay well, these appointments may stop. You are then asked to see your GP if you have any new symptoms, or are worried about anything.
The trial has now closed and we are waiting for the results. Researchers looked back at the medical notes of people who went to their GP with symptoms some time after cancer treatment. They looked at people whose cancer had come back as well as people whose symptoms were caused by something else. The researchers hope to find common symptoms of cancer recurrence to help doctors spot the signs that cancer may have come back.
In the trials and research section you can find information about clinical trials and you can look for trials on our clinical trials database. The database has information about the prostate cancer UK trials mentioned on this page.
Remember that all these new approaches are the subject of ongoing research. If you are interested in taking part in a clinical trial, you can ask your specialist if there are any studies that may be suitable for you.
This section of the website has detailed information about the different types of prostate cancer treatment. You can also phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions.
If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.
UK Prostate Link can direct you to more information about research into prostate cancer.
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