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Our impact on prostate and testicular cancers

Prostate cancer progressWe're fighting over 200 cancers, and prostate and testicular cancers are in our sights. Every single pound donated helps fund our groundbreaking research, bringing closer the day when all cancers will be cured.

Thanks to our supporters, testicular cancer is one of research’s great success stories. Today more than nine out of ten men are cured, compared to only around seven out of ten in the 1970s. Many of these lives have been saved thanks to cisplatin – a drug we helped to develop - and our research continues today

Cancer Research UK is a major funder of research into prostate cancer - the most common cancer in UK men. We helped to develop abiraterone (Zytiga) - an important new drug for advanced prostate cancer which is now available for men in the UK. Our work is transforming our understanding of this disease and how to treat it, working towards a day when prostate cancer is cured. 

Our researchers are heroes. Find out how your donation could support their pioneering, life-saving work.

Here are just some of the ways our work has helped change the picture for men's cancers:

Developing drugs

In the 70s, our researchers played a key role in the development of cisplatin1 – a drug that has transformed the treatment of advanced testicular cancer.

Even further back, our scientists discovered diethylstilboestrol in 19382 - the first synthetic hormone drug that mimics the action of the hormone oestrogen. It became the treatment of choice for advanced prostate cancer for over 40 years and paved the way for other hormone treatments that are still used today.

Our scientists are now leading research into the next generation of prostate cancer treatments, which stand to make big improvements in survival in the future. We supported the early development of abiraterone, an important new drug for advanced prostate cancer that has now been approved for men across the UK with the disease.

We also funded important work into new drugs called PARP inhibitors. These are showing tremendous promise in clinical trials across the world for many different cancers, including for men with prostate cancer caused by inherited faults in BRCA2 and other genes.

Improving radiotherapy

Many thousands of men with prostate cancer receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment every year, and our work has made a significant impact in this area.

We played a pivotal role in the development of conformal radiotherapy for prostate cancer3 – a treatment that ‘shapes’ radiation beams to target tumours. This has changed the way that men are treated today.

Cancer Research UK pioneered the first UK trial of an even more precise type of radiotherapy for prostate cancer called IMRT4 (intensity modulated radiotherapy) that delivers radiation more accurately, helping to avoid side effects. Around eight out of ten men with the disease could benefit from this treatment, once it becomes more widely available.

Searching for genes

Scientists funded by Cancer Research UK are leading the world in the search for gene faults and variations that are linked to cancer. For example, we funded researchers leading an international team that discovered the important BRCA2 gene5. Inherited faults in this gene can significantly increase a man's risk of developing prostate cancer.

And we funded studies involving more than 50,000 men, revealing 16 genetic variations that are linked to prostate cancer risk.6 This work should help to identify men at greater risk of developing the disease, and lead to more effective screening in the future.

Now our researchers are taking part in a worldwide collaboration called the International Cancer Genome Consortium, decoding the genes at the heart of prostate cancer to find the faults that drive the disease. This work will uncover vital clues for new tests and treatments – find out more on our blog.

Read more about research into prostate cancer genes on our Science Update blog.

Making decisions about PSA testing

There isn’t currently a national screening programme for prostate cancer but men can ask their GP for a PSA test as part of an informed choice programme.

Deciding whether to have a PSA test is not simple, and there are lots of things to take into account. For this reason, our researchers developed information packs to assist GPs across the UK in counselling men about the benefits and limitations of the test. This is helping men to make an informed decision about whether to take the PSA test.

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  1. Connors et al New platinum complexes with anti-tumour activity. Chem Biol Interact  (1972) 5: 415-24
  2. Dodds et al Oestrogenic activity of certain synthetic compounds. Nature (1938) 141: 247-48
  3. Dearnaley et al, Comparison of radiation side-effects of conformal and conventional radiotherapy in prostate cancer: a randomised trial. Lancet. (1999) Jan 23;353(9149):267-72.
  4. Nutting, C. et al, Reduction of small and large bowel irradiation using an optimized intensity-modulated pelvic radiotherapy technique in patients with prostate cancer. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. (2000) Oct 1;48(3):649-56.
  5. Wooster et al. Localization of a breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA2, to chromosome 13q12-13. Science (1994) 265; 5181: 2088-90
  6. Eeles, RA, et al. Multiple newly identified loci associated with prostate cancer susceptibility. Nature Genet. (2008) 40: 316-21
Updated: 6 July 2010