Radioactive drug prolongs survival from advanced prostate cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

A radioactive drug can improve survival rates in men whose prostate cancer has spread to their bones, as well improve their quality of life, UK research has confirmed.

The injection of radium-223 delivers high-energy radiation to cancer cells in the bone. The so-called 'alpha-pharmaceutical' treatment has recently been approved by the FDA in America for men with treatment-resistant prostate cancer and is being assessed by NICE in the UK, with a decision expected early next year.

Early trial results looking at 809 men indicated that the drug was effective, and the study was stopped early to enable the group of patients taking a placebo to also benefit from the therapy.

The latest, more comprehensive analysis of data from 921 patients show that radium-223 gave men with late-stage prostate cancer an average of an extra 3.6 months of life.

Men who received it plus best standard treatment lived for an average of 14.9 months compared with 11.3 months for men given an inactive placebo injection on top of standard care.

Men given radium-223 also reported a better overall quality of life.

For men whose prostate cancer has spread to their bones and become resistant to treatment, the last line of treatment is currently a chemotherapy drug called docetaxel. But many are not given docetaxel because they are too frail or opt not to have it.

Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research UK's prostate cancer expert, said: "This important study is very welcome and gives us another weapon that we can use to help patients with spread of prostate cancer to their bones.

"We now need to learn how to use this agent in combination with other treatments, and also to find out whether using it an earlier time in patients with bone spread might be even more beneficial."

The trial was funded by companies Algeta and Bayer Pharmaceuticals and led by the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and the Institute of Cancer Research in London. 

The results are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Copyright Press Association 2013


  • Parker C., et al. (2013). Alpha Emitter Radium-223 and Survival in Metastatic Prostate Cancer, New England Journal of Medicine, 369 (3) 213-223. DOI: