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‘Prostate cancer drug could help 80% of patients’

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What did the media report?

The media reported that a new drug to treat aggressive prostate cancer has the potential to be the most significant advance in therapy for the disease in 70 years.

What does the research show?

Researchers from London’s Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and the Institute of Cancer Research in Surrey, evaluated early results from a small phase I trial involving an experimental drug called abiraterone acetate.

It works by blocking CYP17, an enzyme involved in the production of hormones that drive prostate cancer growth, both in the testes and the tumour itself.

The trial involved 21 patients with the most aggressive form of prostate cancer that had previously proved resistant to multiple hormonal therapies. The drug was taken once-daily, titrating through five doses from 250mg to 2,000mg.

According to the trial investigators, the drug caused tumours to shrink and levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA) – a protein associated with prostate cancer activity – to drop in the majority, 80%, of subjects.

Continuous treatment with the drug for up to two-and-a-half years allowed patients to control their disease with few side effects, and a number were able to stop talking morphine for pain relief, the authors said online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. However, none of the men were cured of the disease.

What did the researchers say?

Lead researcher Dr Johann de Bono said: ‘These men have very aggressive prostate cancer, which is exceptionally difficult to treat and almost always proves to be fatal. We hope that abiraterone will eventually offer them real hope of an effective way of managing their condition and prolonging their lives.

‘It is envisioned that this drug will be available for general use from 2011 and we hope it can become widely available. In the interim, it is available through clinical trials only,’ he said.

What does this mean for nursing practice?

Malcolm Mason, professor of clinical oncology at Cardiff University, who advises Cancer Research UK on prostate cancer, said: ‘These early results are extremely exciting but there’s a lot more work needed to establish what abiraterone’s place will be in treating men with prostate cancer.

‘At the moment the studies are being done on a small number of men with very advanced disease so it’s much too early to say what role the drug might have in treating others with earlier stage prostate cancer. We need the results of a much larger study to see if this early promise will be fulfilled,’ he said.

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