Archive for the ‘radiation therapy for prostate cancer’ Category

Prostate Cancer –Management of Low Risk Disease*

July 27, 2014

Prostate cancer remains one of the most common cancers in men with 250,000 new cases each year and causes nearly 40,000 deaths each year. Like most other cancers there are shades of gray and not all cancers need to have treatment. This blog will discuss the use of androgen deprivation therapy and when it might used in men with advanced prostate cancer.

There’s nothing like an elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA) test result to strike fear into even the most unflappable and courageous of men. That’s because elevations in PSA in the blood can point to the presence of prostate cancer. On the other hand, elevated PSA can also indicate prostatic enlargement or inflammation of the prostate. However, an elevated PSA test result, combined with a digital rectal exam and a 12-core prostate biopsy to remove small pieces of prostate tissue from the gland, will provide a very good idea as to whether a man has cancer or not.

About 40 to 50 percent of the 241,000 men expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year will have a suspicious PSA score and a Gleason score of 6 out of 10, which is based on the prostate biopsy. A Gleason score of 6 is an indicator of a very favorable or low-risk disease, a disease that is treatable and curable — if, in fact, a man chooses to treat it.

Facing treatment decisions. Once a man has a prostate cancer diagnosis, he then has to choose what type of treatment he wants, which can include surgery or radiation therapy; men with low-risk cancer can also opt for active surveillance, or close monitoring without any immediate treatment. However, these men have to have a digital rectal exam and PSA test and possibly a repeat biopsy on a regular basis.

The good news is that low-risk prostate cancer — meaning low grade and low stage with a PSA below 10 ng/mL — grows slowly, if at all. Therefore, a man should be sure to discuss with his doctor whether he really needs to undergo any therapy to treat his cancer. That’s because in the majority of cases the answer will be “not now.”

What we have learned over the years with low-grade cancer is that sometimes the best option is no treatment whatsoever. And that includes treatment with androgen deprivation therapy, or ADT.
Earlier this summer, I came across a study in JAMA Internal Medicine that reminded me that many men with low-risk prostate cancer are still being offered primary ADT to treat their cancer, something that we would not recommend at Johns Hopkins. The reason: ADT offers no survival benefit for men with low-risk cancer and it causes significant side effects, including osteoporosis, diabetes and decreased libido.

Androgen deprivation therapy (ADT)–also called hormone deprivation, or hormonal or androgen ablation–is effective at turning off the body’s supply of male hormones, which prostate cells need to grow and develop. When the supply is shut off by drugs or by removing the testes, a portion of the cancer dies, tumors generally shrink, and PSA levels drop.

It’s androgens, or male hormones, that stimulate the growth of prostate tumors. The two most common androgens are testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Since the Nobel Prize-winning discovery by Dr. Charles Huggins of the University of Chicago that prostate tumors depend on these hormones to grow, reducing androgen levels or blocking the action of androgen (androgen suppression) has become the standard of care for men with cancer that has spread beyond the prostate (metastasized) to the bones and other organs. There has also been increasing interest in using it in men whose PSA level has begun to rise after treatment with surgery or radiation (“biochemical recurrence,” an early sign that the cancer has not been eradicated).

Most urologists typically wait until there is evidence of metastatic disease before starting with ADT. There is an exception, however, and that is when we see a rapid PSA doubling time (less than six months) — because this provides indirect evidence of micrometastic disease that will develop in the next few years.

While ADT plays a significant role in the treatment of advanced prostate cancer, it has no role in the treatment of older men with low-risk cancer. Yet primary ADT is nevertheless being prescribed for one in eight men over age 65 diagnosed with localized prostate cancer.

The JAMA article. In the JAMA Internal Medicine study conducted by Grace L. Lu-Yao, Ph.D., a cancer epidemiologist at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, more than 66,000 older men with low-risk prostate cancer were followed for up to 15 years. Dr. Lu-Yao reported that those men who received ADT lived no longer on average when compared with men who did not receive the therapy.

Prescribing ADT for these low-risk patients may decrease the high anxiety level that a patient may have due to his cancer diagnosis, however, it is necessary to note that such treatment may carry more risk than benefit. ADT helps reduce anxiety by quickly dropping PSA levels into the undetectable range, so the doctors may feel that they are doing something positive for their patients. However, ADT may not really be in the patient’s best interest due to complex side effects. The doctor should really be talking to patients with low-risk disease about pursuing active surveillance, not ADT.

There are serious potential risks associated with ADT, including coronary heart disease, and the associated high costs of the medications, the use of primary ADT should be limited to patients in the high-risk cancer group who are not suitable for, or opt not to receive, primary therapy — surgery or radiation — that has the potential to cure.
The side effects associated with ADT. In general, hormonal therapy will cause significant side effects after several months of treatment. Long-term side effects of ADT may include one, some or all of the following:
• Anemia
• Coronary heart disease
• Decreased energy
• Decrease in mental acuity
• Depression
• Diabetes
• Erectile dysfunction
• Hot flashes
• Loss of muscle mass
• Osteopenia
• Osteoporosis

Bottom Line: Many men with prostate cancer who have low risk disease or who have recurrence after treatment with radiation or surgery. This is usually detected by a rising PSA after treatment for prostate cancer that is confined to the prostate gland. These men should have a discussion with their urologists and discuss if androgen deprivation therapy is really in their best interests and that the benefits vs. the side effects are worth the treatment with androgen deprivation therapy.

*This blog was modified from the Johns Hopkins Newsletter, July 2014

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PSA Elevation After Treatment For Prostate Cancer

July 24, 2014

Prostate cancer represents the second most common cancer in men following lung cancer. Prostate cancer will be diagnosed in nearly 250,000 men annually and causes nearly 40,000 deaths each year. If you already have had prostate cancer treatment, changes in PSA levels can tell whether treatment is working.

After surgical removal of your prostate, your PSA levels should be undetectable. After radiation therapy, the PSA levels should drop and remain at low levels.
Signs that your cancer has returned may include one of these:
Three consecutive PSA rises above the lowest level over time
Confirmed rise of more than 2 ng/mL from your lowest level

The key is monitoring your PSA levels over time. A rapid rise suggests rapid cancer growth and the need for treatment. A very slow rise of the PSA can often be watched.
But PSA levels can also be somewhat confusing. For example, they can go up and down a bit for no reason. The PSA test is not precise, and minor changes from test to test are to be expected.
Low rises of PSA levels can’t predict your longevity or symptoms when you have cancer. But high or rapidly rising PSA levels can suggest future problems.
That’s why doctors take other factors into account when evaluating your situation. Talk with your doctor to get a better idea of what to expect, so the numbers don’t add to your anxiety.

Advanced Prostate Cancer and PSA Levels Over Time
If you have advanced prostate cancer that has spread outside the prostate, your doctor will be looking less at your actual PSA levels than at whether and how quickly PSA levels change.
Doctors use changes in PSA levels over time (called PSA velocity) to tell how extensive and aggressive your cancer is.

Your doctor won’t just look at one PSA reading at a time. He or she will confirm it with multiple tests over many months, especially after any radiation therapy. That’s because you can have a temporary bump in PSA levels for about one to two years after radiation treatment.
To determine how aggressive your cancer is and whether further treatment makes sense, your doctor may also consider your:
PSA levels before cancer
Grade of cancer or the Gleason score. The higher the Gleason score, the more aggressive the cancer.
Overall health and life expectancy
PSA Levels and Treatment for Advanced Prostate Cancer
Your symptoms and how long it takes for your PSA levels to double (PSA doubling time) affect decisions about how soon to try treatment such as hormone therapy.
Your doctor will look at how quickly or slowly PSA rises before deciding on which treatment to suggest. You may need continued monitoring before moving to a new treatment. Your doctor may suggest waiting for a while to delay the appearance of treatment-related side effects. Discuss with your doctor how to weigh these considerations.

PSA levels may also be useful in checking if your treatment for advanced prostate cancer is working after you have had:
Hormone therapy
Chemotherapy
Vaccine therapy
Treatment should lower PSA levels, keep them from rising, or slow the rise, at least for a while.
Doctors monitor PSA regularly based on the type of treatment you had first. For example, after hormone therapy, PSA should drop to a lower level quickly, i.e., within weeks. It may fall further over time as you continue hormone therapy.

Combined with symptoms and other tests, PSA tests can also show if it’s time to try another type of treatment.

Bottom Line: PSA is an imprecise test for diagnosing and monitoring prostate cancer. If the PSA rises quickly after treatment, whether it is surgery, radiation, or hormone treatment, this is of concern and you may need to have additional treatment. Speak to your doctor if you have any questions.

Watching The Results On Watchful Waiting For Prostate Cancer

October 29, 2013

I have seen many changes in medicine during my 35 year career but nothing has changed more dramatically than the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer. When I was a medical student in 1968, the treatment was primarily removing a man’s testicles or castration. This drastic treatment removed the source of testosterone, which was the “fuel” to cause prostate cancer to grow. Then came surgery and radiation therapy followed by chemotherapy and now high energy focused ultrasound or HIFU. But many of these treatments have significant side effects like impotence and urinary incontinence which significantly impact a man’s quality of life. As a result conservative forms of treatment have been sought after that doen’t have the side effects and yet prolongs a man’s life. One of those options is watchful waiting or active surveillance where the diagnosis is made and no treatment is used and the man returns regularly for a physical examination which incldues a digital rectal exam, a PSA test and perhaps a repeat prostate ultrasound examination.

Because prostate cancer often grows very slowly, some men (especially those who are older or have other serious health problems) may never need treatment for their prostate cancer. Instead, your doctor may recommend approaches known as expectant management, watchful waiting, or active surveillance.

Active surveillance or watchful waiting is often used to mean monitoring the cancer closely with prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests, digital rectal exams (DREs), and ultrasounds at regular intervals to see if the cancer is growing. Prostate biopsies may be done as well to see if the cancer is becoming more aggressive. If there is a change in your test results, your doctor would then talk to you about treatment options.
With active surveillance, your cancer will be carefully monitored. Usually this approach includes a doctor visit with a PSA blood test and DRE about every 3 to 6 months. Transrectal ultrasound-guided prostate biopsies may be done every year as well.
Treatment can be started if the cancer seems to be growing or getting worse, based on a rising PSA level or a change in the DRE, ultrasound findings, or biopsy results. On biopsies, an increase in the Gleason score or extent of tumor (based on the number of biopsy samples containing tumor) are both signals to start treatment (usually surgery or radiation therapy).

Active surveillance allows the patient to be observed for a time, only treating those men whose cancer grows, and so have a serious form of the cancer. This lets men with a less serious cancer avoid the side effects of a treatment that might not have helped them live longer.

An approach such as this may be recommended if your cancer is not causing any symptoms, is expected to grow slowly (based on a low Gleason score, i.e., 6), and is small and contained within the prostate. This type of approach is not likely to be a good option if you have a fast-growing cancer (for example, a high Gleason score, >8) or if the cancer is likely to have spread outside the prostate (based on PSA levels). Men who are young and healthy are less likely to be offered active surveillance, out of concern that the cancer will become a problem over the next 20 or 30 years.
Watchful waiting is also an option for older men who have other co-morbid conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or another cancer that has been previously treated. A rule of thumb is that if a man has a life expectancy of less than 10 years and has a low grade prostate cancer, then watchful waiting would certainly be suggestion.

Active surveillance is a reasonable option for some men with slow-growing cancers because it is not known whether treating the cancer with surgery or radiation will actually help them live longer. These treatments have definite risks and side effects that may outweigh the possible benefits for some men.
So far there are no randomized studies comparing active surveillance to treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy. Some early studies of active surveillance (in men who are good candidates) have shown that only about a quarter of the men need to go on to definitive treatment with radiation or surgery.

Bottom Line: Prostate cancer is usually a slow growing tumor that affects millions of American men. One consideration for an older man, with a low Gleason score, and no symptoms from the prostate cancer would be watchful waiting. Each man with prostate cancer needs to have a discussion with his doctor to decide which treatment is best in his situation.