Metastasized prostate cancer – There’s help and hope

A diagnosis of metastasized prostate cancer can feel discouraging, but take heart in knowing that there are still treatment options that can be explored.

The terms metastatic prostate cancer or prostate cancer metastasis mean that the cancer has spread from its original site (the prostate gland) to:

  • The lymph nodes
  • Other organs of the body
  • Or the bones (such as the spine, pelvis, ribs or bones of the arms or thighs)

Confusing terms

Some use the term advanced metastatic prostate cancer.  Generally the word “advanced” is used to describe locally advanced cancer, which is cancer that has grown through the outer rim of the prostate and into nearby tissue.

You may also hear the word “advanced” used to describe metastasized cancer that has spread beyond the prostate gland and nearby tissue.

So the terms advanced metastatic prostate cancer and advanced prostate cancer can be a little confusing.

When referring to metastatic disease here, we mean prostate cancer that has spread beyond the gland and nearby tissue.

Treatments for metastasized prostate cancer

The most common or “mainstay” treatment for metastasized prostate cancer has been hormone therapy (often called androgen suppression therapy or ADT, which stands for androgen deprivation therapy).

While this is not considered to be a curative treatment for metastatic disease, it has been shown to extend survival in men.

Unfortunately, at some point the cancer usually “learns” to grow again and no longer responds to hormone treatment. This is known as hormone-refractory prostate cancer or androgen-independent cancer.

Because of the eventual resistance to hormone treatment, there has been much debate over the years about whether men should start ADT right away, even before a man has any evidence of metastasized prostate cancer. Or if he should wait until he definitely has metastatic disease.

Laboratory studies have suggested that early hormone therapy does not mean a man will experience early resistance, but the jury is still out on this and more research is needed.

Remember that every man is different.  Despite what the statistics say, there is really no way of knowing how your loved one will or will not respond to treatment.

While it’s important to do your research, try to stay as positive as possible and take things one day at a time.

Some study results

A study by Crawford et al showed a benefit of early hormone therapy in men with distant metastases, which means cancer has spread from the prostate gland to distant organs or distant lymph nodes.

Moul et al suggested the potential benefit of early hormone therapy in delaying clinical metastasis, based on a database analysis of 5,382 men who underwent primary radical prostatectomy.

Much more clinical research is needed, particularly since many men find the side effects of ADT to be difficult to live with.

Other treatments for prostate cancer metastasis

  • External beam radiation: This is sometimes is used to treat prostate cancer metastasis, particularly when men experience bone pain
  • Chemotherapy: Such as the use of docetaxel (brand name Taxotere), which is often used along with prednisone. More recently, cabazitaxel was shown to be more effective than docetaxel against hormone-resistant, human prostate cancer cell lines in laboratory studies
  • Radiopharmaceuticals: Drugs that are used to fight bone pain caused by prostate cancer metastases. Sometimes other pain medications are also used
  • Bisphosphonates: These drugs are used to keep bones from breaking down and to treat bone pain

Vaccine therapy

An exciting development for metastasized prostate cancer is emerging immunotherapies, such as vaccines.

One such treatment that is approved by the FDA is sipuleucel-T (brand name Provenge). The drug company that makes Provenge has undergone some financial difficulties, but as of February 2015, it looks like they may be acquired by another company.  For now, Provenge is still available for men with metastatic prostate cancer that fail hormone therapy.

How sipuleucel-T works

Sipuleucel-T is an active cellular immunotherapy that is designed to engage a man’s own immune system against prostate cancer.

How it works:

  1. A man’s white blood cells are first removed from his blood
  2. The cells are exposed to a specific protein from prostate cancer cells called prostatic acid phosphatase or PAP
  3. The altered cells are given back to the man in three intravenous doses, with a period of two weeks between each dose

The most common (and temporary) side effects that have been reported with Provenge include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Back and joint pain

Rare symptoms, which have improved with treatment, have included problems breathing and high blood pressure.

In clinical trial, sipuleucel-T was shown to:

  • Extend median survival by 4.1 months (25.8 months versus 21.7 months) compared to placebo (no medication)
  • Increase 3-year survival by 38% (31.7% versus 23.0% for placebo)

Back to prostate cancer recurrence

Metastasized prostate cancer references:

The American Cancer Society. Prostate Cancer. Accessed March 17, 2015.

American Urological Association. AUA 2008: Therapeutic vaccine prolongs survival and improves quality of life in patient with metastatic prostate cancer. Accessed June 4, 2009.

Bone and Cancer Foundation brochure. Questions and answers about prostate cancer, bone metastasis, and treatment-related osteoporosis.

Crawford ED, Eisenberger MA, McLeod DG, Spaulding JT, Benson R, Dorr FA, Blumenstein BA, Davis MA, Goodman PJ. A controlled trial of leuprolide with and without flutamide in prostatic carcinoma. N Engl J Med. 1989;17;321(7):419-24.

Early versus deferred androgen suppression in the treatment of advanced prostatic cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2001, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD003506. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003506.

Dendreon Corporation press release. Accessed June 4, 2009.

Moul JW, Wu H, Sun L, McLeod DG, Amling C, Donahue T, Kusuda L, Sexton W, O’Reilly K, Hernandez J, Chung A, Soderdahl D. Early versus delayed hormonal therapy for prostate specific antigen only recurrence of prostate cancer after radical prostatectomy. J Urol. 2004;171(3):1141-7.

Terris, MK, Rhee A, Qureshi SM. Prostate Cancer – Metastatic and Advanced Disease. Accessed June 4, 2009.

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