Using Chemotherapy Early in Treatment May Help Extend the Life of Patients with Prostate Cancer

Health Writer

Chemotherapy using the drug docetaxel is usually used once prostate cancer is in an advanced stage. However, a recent study has shown that adding this type of chemotherapy early in treatment can help extend the life of those with this type of cancer.

Treatment for prostate cancer is based on your specific situation. Your gleason score, which “grades” your cancer, along with information on whether and how much your cancer has spread outside of the pelvic region, is used to determine which type of treatment would be best. When cancer has reached stage III or stage IV, one of the treatments is hormone therapy. This type of treatment lowers androgen levels, such as testosterone, or blocks them from reaching the cancer cells in the prostate. Because these hormones stimulate prostate cancer cells, this type of therapy often helps but it does not cure prostate cancer.

According to Professor Nicholas James, one of the researchers at Warwick University, chemotherapy is often not used until after hormone therapy, once the cancer has reached “a much more advanced stage of the illness.” The recent study shows that it is beneficial to add the chemotherapy at the beginning of treatment.

The study looked at almost 3,000 men. Some were given six doses of docetaxel at the start of their treatment and some were given hormone or other treatments without the addition of the drug. The study showed that those who received the drug lived 10 months longer. For those whose cancer had spread outside the pelvic region, this increased to 22 months. Professor James believes that, based on the results, all men with prostate cancer should be given docetaxel at the start of their treatment.

According to Cancer Research UK, the current mortality rates for prostate cancer are:

Localized - the cancer has stayed within the prostate gland - 90 percent live at least five years after being diagnosed and between 65 and 90 percent live at least ten years.

Locally advanced cancer - when the cancer has broken through the outer cover of the prostate gland - between 79 percent and 80 percent will live at least five years after diagnosis

Metastatic prostate cancer - when the cancer has spread to another part of the body - about 30 percent of men will live at least five years past diagnosis.

With only about 30 percent of men living five years after diagnosis with advanced stage prostate cancer, adding 10 to 22 months is a large improvement. John Angrave told BBC News that he was diagnosed with advanced stage prostate cancer seven years ago and was given three to five years to live. He received docetaxel at the start of his treatment and not only is still alive but has a “good quality of life” that includes fishing, walking and spending time with his grandkids.

There are some side effects with docetaxel, however, the researchers noted these were manageable. The most common side effects include redness or swelling at the injection site as well as nausea and diarrhea. Those taking this medication should not get “live” vaccines. Some people may also experience allergic reactions to the medication - hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat. Should you take the medication you should tell your doctor if you experience any serious side effects or an allergic reaction.