Some men, especially those with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, with advanced stage prostate cancer might benefit from a drug used to treat ovarian cancer. The drug olaparib, has been shown to slow down or halt tumor growth, lower the number of tumor cells in the bloodstream and cause levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA) to drop.
The medication olaparib was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2014, for women with advanced ovarian cancer caused by BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. The drug was approved under the FDA’s accelerated approval program used for drugs that show promise of treating serious diseases. The clinical trial used in the approval process tested 137 women with ovarian cancer (linked to BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutated genes). After treatment with the medication over one-third of the women experienced either shrinkage or disappearance of their tumor for about eight months.
A group in the UK tested this medication on men with advanced stage prostate cancer caused by either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutated genes. There were 49 men with prostate cancer (not all as a result of gene mutation) in the study. As with the women’s study, around one-third of the men experienced significant improvement; for those with prostate cancer resulting from a gene mutation, the rate of improvement was much higher. The results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research.
As with many cancers, early detection is important in the success of treatment. Because men with prostate cancer might not experience symptoms until the cancer has spread, it is often not diagnosed until it has advanced, lowering the chances of treatment being effective. This new treatment, however, has shown promise at treating ovarian and prostate cancer at advanced stages.
According to Professor Johan de Bono****, one of the lead researchers, the results of the study are exciting because they show that not only is this treatment an option for men with advanced prostate cancer from BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, but that it also was effective for some men with other gene mutations, men without any gene mutations and those without any inherent risk of prostate cancer.
Side effects of this medication are similar to other chemotherapy medications: nausea, vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea, indigestion, headache, cough, rash, pain in joints and common cold-like symptoms. The medication can also increase the risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow, and lung inflammation.
Although this medication was approved for women with ovarian cancer due to BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, it has not been approved for men with prostate cancer. However, further tests of olaparib are planned. The group from the UK plans a second part of the study where they will focus on men with advanced cancer due to DNA faults. The researchers hope that this testing will open the possibility of finding an effective treatment for men with prostate cancer - no matter what stage their cancer has reached at diagnosis.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.