It was with a happy heart that I read the latest BBC health news report about a new immunotherapy drug trial that appears to have had amazing results in one in 10 men with untreatable prostate cancer.
The 258 men involved in the UK test all had advanced prostate cancer and were treated with the new immunotherapy drug, Pembrolizumab. Astonishingly 1 in 10 of the men found their cancer had not grown during the time they took the drug, with one chap stating that the prostate cancer had become undetectable and that he was now effectively ‘cancer free’.
My own fight with Prostate Cancer
Those of you who are regulars to the Over50choices website will know of my own personal battle with prostate cancer back in 2010; a fight I am continuing to win with regular PSA tests, thanks to an amazing specialist in Basingstoke.
I have to say for me, health insurance was the game changer as it gave me access to healthcare specialists, quick access to treatment and essentially one of the best prostate cancer surgeons in the country.
My prostate cancer was pretty aggressive, especially considering my age; so access to Christopher Eden my surgeon through my private health insurance gave me my health back and also limited the side effects the removal of the prostate can have.
But as a result of my journey, I am always keen to see how cancer treatments and trials of any form develop and welcome all progress in the fight against cancer – not matter how great or small.
What is Prostate Cancer?
The prostate is a gland that sits underneath a man’s bladder and surrounds the urethra. It’s typically around the size of a walnut and produces fluid that keeps sperm and seaman healthy. Cancer of the prostate typically affects 1 in 8 men, mainly over the age of 50 however it can occur at a younger age as it did with me.
As far as prostate cancer symptoms are concerned, you may notice urinary problems like going more frequently or a weak flow when you do urinate but as the cancer is contained in the prostate, there may not be any symptoms at all.
Because of this it is important to understand your risk of getting prostate cancer and talking to your GP if you have any concerns. For example your prostate cancer risk increases as you get older, if any family members have had prostate cancer or if you are a black man.
For more information on prostate cancer, take a look at the Prostate Cancer UK website.
So what was the prostate cancer trial and what does it prove?
Immunotherapy works by ‘taking the brakes off’ a patient’s own immune system so it can attack a tumour and is now part of routine practice for some skin and lung cancers.
Your immune system is naturally trained to fight infection and attack parts of the body if they malfunction, such as having cancer. The difficult part is that in order to survive, cancers have learned to produce a protein called PD-L1, which switches off the immune system if it tries to attack it. So this new drug prevents the immune system from turning off so it can continue attacking the tumour.
Whilst the results of the test were positive, only 10% to 15% of the men trialled with prostate cancer responded to the treatment, so it appears that it only works for some patients – possibly the ones with the most heavily-mutated cancers.
Therefore the next step is to understand how to tell which men will benefit from the new drug in future.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with over 47,000 being diagnosed every year. In fact it has now recently overtaken breast cancer to become the third biggest killer.
There are a range of prostate cancer treatments available depending on your age and situation from radiotherapy to brachtherapy; hormone therapy to as in my case, surgery. The main thing is to be prostate cancer aware, understand your risk, speak to your GP and if relevant get your PSA levels checked with a prostate cancer test. It saved my life – it could just save yours.