Patients with the most aggressive form of prostate cancer who have surgery – radical prostatectomy – were found to have a 10-year cancer-specific survival rate of 92%, which is high, and a 77% overall survival rate, according to researchers from the Fox Chase Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic, USA. This compares to an 88% 10-year cancer specific survival rate and 52% overall survival rate for those who underwent radiotherapy without surgery. The findings were presented at the American Urological Association’s 84th Annual Meeting, Chicago.
Stephen Boorjian, M.D., a urologist at the Mayo Clinic, said:
It’s long been believed that patients with aggressive prostate cancer are not candidates for surgery. We found that surgery does provide excellent long-term cancer control for this type of prostate cancer. In addition, by allowing the targeted use of secondary therapies such as androgen deprivation, surgery offers the opportunity to avoid or at least delay the potentially adverse health consequences of these treatments.
Their study included 1,847 individuals with aggressive prostate cancer. Between 1988 and 2004 1,238 of them underwent a surgical procedure to have their prostate taken out (radical prostatectomy) at the Mayo Clinic, while 609 received radiotherapy at the Fox Chase Cancer Center. 344 of the patients who received radiotherapy were also given androgen deprivation therapy.
The investigators worked out their overall and cancer-specific survival rates:
- Patients who underwent surgery had a 92% cancer-specific survival rate, as did those who received radiotherapy plus androgen deprivation therapy (hormone therapy)
- 77% of those who had surgery had a 77% overall survival rate
- Those who received radiotherapy plus hormone therapy had an overall survival rate of 67%
- Patients who had just received radiation therapy (radiotherapy) had an overall survival rate of just 52%
Dr. Boorjian said:
Patients with radiation and hormone therapy were 50 percent more likely to die than patients who had surgery. This was true even after controlling for patient age, comorbidities and features of the tumors. These results suggest that use of hormone therapy in patients who received radiation therapy may have had adverse health consequences.
We want to stress that surgery provides excellent long-term control for high-risk prostate cancer patients. Limiting the need for hormones may avoid adverse health consequences. Further studies evaluating the differing impacts of treatments on quality of life and non-cancer mortality are necessary before we can determine the best approach for patients with aggressive prostate cancer.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer only affects men. Cancer begins to develop in the prostate – a gland in a man’s reproductive system. The word “prostate” comes from Medieval Latin prostate and Medieval French prostate. The ancient Greek word prostates means “one standing in front”, from proistanaimeaning “set before”. The prostate is so called because of where it is – at the base of the bladder.
The prostate is an exocrine gland of the male reproductive system, and exists directly under the bladder, in front of the rectum. An exocrine gland is one whose secretions end up outside the body e.g. prostate gland and sweat glands. It is approximately the size of a walnut.
The urethra – a tube that goes from the bladder to the end of the penis and carries urine and semen out of the body – goes through the prostate.
There are thousands of very small glands in the prostate – they all produce a fluid that forms part of the semen. This fluid also protects and nourishes the sperm. When a male has an orgasm the seminal-vesicles secrete a milky liquid in which the semen travels. The liquid is produced in the prostate gland, while the sperm is kept and produced in the testicles. When a male climaxes (has an orgasm) contractions force the prostate to secrete this fluid into the urethra and leave the body through the penis.
The epithelial cells in the prostate gland produce a protein called PSA (prostate-specific antigen). The PSA helps keep the semen in its liquid state. Some of the PSA escapes into the bloodstream. We can measure a man’s PSA levels by checking his blood. If a man’s levels of PSA are high, it might be an indication of either prostate cancer or some kind of prostate condition.
It is a myth to think that a high blood-PSA level is harmful to you – it is not. High blood PSA levels are however an indication that something may be wrong in the prostate.
Male hormones affect the growth of the prostate, and also how much PSA the prostate produces. Medications aimed at altering male hormone levels may affect PSA blood levels. If male hormones are low during a male’s growth and during his adulthood, his prostate gland will not grow to full size.
In some older men the prostate may continue to grow, especially the part that is around the urethra. This can make it more difficult for the man to pass urine as the growing prostate gland may be causing the urethra to collapse. When the prostate gland becomes too big in this way, the condition is called Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). BPH is not cancer, but must be treated.
In the vast majority of cases, the prostate cancer starts in the gland cells – this is called adenocarcinoma.
In the majority of cases, prostate cancer is a very slow progressing disease. In fact, many men die of old age, without ever knowing they had prostate cancer – it is only when an autopsy is done that doctors know it was there. Several studies have indicated that perhaps about 80% of all men in their eighties had prostate cancer when they died, but nobody knew, not even the doctor.
Prostate cancer can, however, be aggressive and progress much more rapidly.