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article imageStudy: Prostate cancer drug gives men back their lives

By Yukio Strachan     Jun 3, 2012 in Health
Prostate cancer, a disease that kills nearly 30,000 men a year, now has a new foe –– a drug so good that researchers shut down the study early so that every participant could receive it, researchers reported Saturday.
New data presented this weekend at the 48th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) showed Zytiga may prove to be an important new treatment option for prostate cancer that has spread beyond the prostate to other areas of the body prior to receiving chemotherapy, a press release states.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Zytiga, known as abiraterone, in April 2011 for use by men whose cancer had spread to other parts of their body and had already been treated with chemotherapy.
The lead researcher, Dr. Charles Ryan, associate professor of clinical medicine at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, told the San Francisco Chronicle that of the 200,000 men diagnosed prostate cancer in the United States each year, a third of those men will have recurrent or aggressive disease that may have been caught too late.
Ryan said men tend to die when the cancer spreads outside the prostate, mostly to bone, and the patient becomes resistant to hormonal therapy.
Since prostate cancer cells feed on testosterone to stay alive, it makes sense that typically doctors treat patients with drugs that would starve the cancer at its source: testosterone-blocking hormone therapy.
But sometimes cancer cells can develop the ability to make their own hormone and learn to survive even in the face of the testosterone-blocking drugs, giving the disease the ability to progress.
Picture from patient handout showing how Zytiga works in treating prostate cancer.
Picture from patient handout showing how Zytiga works in treating prostate cancer.
ZYTIGA handout
And that's where, Zytiga, comes in. As the Chronicle notes, Zytiga is the first FDA-approved drug that can go inside the cancer cell and block it from making its own testosterone, thus blocking prostate growth.
The trial reported Saturday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago involved 1,088 men, with the average age of 70, who had not received chemotherapy, according to MedPage Today.
All participants received the standard low-dose prednisone treatment. But then patients were randomly selected to receive with it, either Zytiga or a placebo. As Gizmodo reports, Researchers almost immediately discovered that, in the Zytiga group, the cancer progressed at only half the speed as the control group, with patients reporting significantly less pain and a noticeable delay before they had to undertake chemo. The results are so stupendous that the trial was cancelled to allow every patient access to the drug.
But before more insurance companies cover Zytiga for patients who haven't undergone chemotherapy with prostate cancer, it needs the green light from the FDA.
"If the FDA looks favorably upon the data ... it will really change the standard of care in advanced prostate cancer away from chemotherapy toward a well-tolerated, oral therapy," said Ryan from Chicago, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "It opens up the possibility of this life-prolonging therapy being given to a larger population of patients."
And although final results of the trial are expected next year, some physicians have already given the drug their approval.
"When you treat cancer patients you sometimes run out of options," said Dr. Mark Scholz, executive director of the Prostate Cancer Research Institute in Los Angeles, according to the Chronicle. "We've had some patients like that since Zytiga was released that looked like the game was up, and they've been able to regain their lives."
Rodolfo Chavez is one such patient. The 83-year-old was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and learned it had spread in 2006.He calls Zytiga his miracle drug.
The former longshoreman from San Pedro (Los Angeles County) told the Chronicle, "After that first bottle, my pain went away and I just felt like my life was turning around."
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