Talking About Cancer
One of the major news stories over the past few months was a survey of over 2,000 people, carried out by Yougov on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support. The survey found that people affected by cancer prefer to talk in factual terms, with metaphors such as ‘battling’ and ‘fighting’ cancer generally not appreciated. The report found that the important thing to remember when talking about cancer is to be natural and remember that not knowing what to say is fine, too.
Side effects of prostate cancer treatment can be difficult to live with and difficult to talk about.
In January 2019, the main findings from the Life After Prostate Cancer Diagnosis study were published in the respected medical journal Lancet Oncology. This study was led by Professor Adam Glazer from the University of Leeds. More than 30,000 men shared their experiences, making it the largest ever study of its kind in the UK. Four out of five men with prostate cancer struggle with sexual function, while other problems include pain and discomfort, and poorer mental health.
Bristol’s Southmead Hospital is currently testing a new surgical technique that would spare the nerves around the prostate whenever possible. If this is successful, fewer men who are treated surgically for prostate cancer would experience impotence afterwards.
Radiotherapy remains a mainstay of prostate cancer treatment. In January, the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, based at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, became the first centre in the UK to use a pioneering MRI-only technology to plan radiotherapy. This means that patients will not have to attend for both MRI and CAT scans to plan their treatment, cutting down on time spent in hospital.
Researchers in Los Angeles found that some men (i.e., those with low-risk prostate cancer or intermediate-risk prostate cancer) can be successfully treated using higher doses of radiation over less time. Meanwhile, researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital, also in the USA, have developed a ‘machine learning framework’, a clever way to automatically analyse data and make predictions based on that information, to help predict whether a prostate cancer is high- or low-risk. It’s thought that this innovation will particularly help radiologists decide how best to treat an individual’s cancer. A small research study in Australia has discovered that men with aggressive prostate cancer that has spread throughout the body generally lived about four months longer than average when given a new radiation-based treatment called LuPMSA. Because only a small number of men have been tested, and this is an early clinical trial, it’s too soon to be certain that this treatment will work or how good it is. However, it’s very encouraging that it has been successful up to this point, and we hope it leads to better treatment options for men with advanced disease.
Closer to home, the STAMPEDE trial unfortunately found that standard radiotherapy administered to the prostate does not seem to help men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer that has already spread throughout the body to live any longer.
In Ireland, researchers at University College Dublin have spearheaded a potential breakthrough with their ‘epiCaPture’ test, which looks for specific changes to a man’s DNA that can be picked up in his urine. Although the technology is still developing and has so far only been tested in a small number of men, it has potential to pick up aggressive prostate cancer from a urine test and its accuracy may surpass that of PSA tests.
Not All Doom and Gloom
Figures from the Office of National Statistics turned up a surprising fact at the start of 2019: as long as their cancer is caught early, men with prostate cancer live longer than the general population. This is possibly because, in addition to the relative ease of treating a cancer caught in the initial stages, an early diagnosis may lead to men prioritising their health in general. However, the outlook is not so good for men diagnosed after their disease has spread.
It is because advanced prostate cancer is responsible for the overwhelming majority of deaths from the disease, and because treatments are so limited, that PCR’s focus is on this stage.