Although cancer diagnosis is usually considered bad news, from other perspective it means that treatments can start. However, at this point doctors have to make decisions what kind of treatment is the best for each separate case. Now scientists from UCL have conducted a study, which demonstrates that starting chemotherapy early improves chances of survival for men with prostate cancer.
It may look an obvious discovery. However, study focuses on a chemotherapy drug called docetaxel, which is used only after hormone therapy has stopped working. Researchers wanted to see what effect the drug would have if it would be started together with long-term hormone therapy. As the team announced, it was found that adding docetaxel improved survival chances for these men.
Scientists also looked at another drug, zoledronic acid, to see if it also improves survival rates. It is also used when hormone therapy stops working with patients who face cancer spreading to their bones. Zoledronic acid reduces risk of bone problems in these cases. However, unlike with docetaxel, using zoledronic acid did not improve survival chances for these men.
However, even though results are positive, difference is not dramatic. Men who started docetaxel together with the hormone therapy lived on average 10 months longer. Zoledronic acid did not have similar effect. However, when men were given all three treatments at once, lived longer than those who got only the standard treatment. Therefore, zoledronic acid did not add to the survival time for these patients. But, as usual, it is not only positive news from these experiments.
Pretty much all men with prostate cancer report some sort of side-effects from standard treatment. However, men using standard treatment plus docetaxel were especially likely to experience unwanted side-effects, for example, a low number of white blood cells. However, these side-effects were easy to manage and were generally short-term. Very patients had to quit docetaxel because of side-effects. Scientists conclude that doctors should prescribe docetaxel to newly-diagnosed patients that are well enough to take it.
There is even better news. Scientists performed meta-analysis, which concluded that men whose disease had spread to distant parts of their body and took docetaxel with standard treatment had a much greater chance to stay alive for longer. In numbers, proportion of men alive at four years after joining the trial increased from 40% to 49% with docetaxel. The number of patients whose cancer had not come back or got worse increased from 20% to 36% after four years.
Scientists will continue the research and more results should come. However, it is evident that new treatment methods should emerge from this rather soon as drugs are readily available and in use and only schedule of using them should be changed.