Ongoing Research for Testicular and Prostate Cancer
Below are some testicular cancer statistics and an outline of the ongoing research into prostate cancer:
Incidence of testicular cancer
- Around 2,090 men in the UK are diagnosed with testicular cancer every year.
- Testicular cancer is rare before puberty but is the most common cancer of men aged 15-44.
- The incidence of testicular cancer has doubled in Britain since the mid-1970s.
- Testicular cancer incidence is rising, particularly in Caucasian men.
- Since the introduction of combination chemotherapy in the 1970s, survival rates for testicular cancer have risen every year to cure rates of over 95%.
- Now, more than 95% of men with testicular cancer are cured, compared to less than 70% in the early 1970s.
- Each year around 70 men in the UK die from testicular cancer.
- Testicular cancer death rates have fallen by 80% in the last forty years.
Testicular cancer statistics table
Testicular cancer - UK
Number of new cases (UK 2008)
Incidence rate per 100,000 population*
Number of deaths (UK 2008)
Mortality rate per 100,000 population*
One-year survival rate (adult patients diagnosed 2004-2006, England)
Five-year survival rate (adult patients diagnosed 2001-2006, England)
Ten-year predicted survival rate (adult patients diagnosed 2007, England)
*age-standardized to the European population
Prostate Cancer Research
Research into the causes, prevention, and treatment of prostate is under way in many medical centers throughout the world.
New research on genes linked to prostate cancer is helping scientists better understand how prostate cancer develops. These studies are expected to provide answers about the genetic changes that lead to prostate cancer. This could make it possible to design medicines to reverse those changes. Tests to find abnormal prostate cancer genes could also help identify men at high risk who would benefit from more intensive screening or from chemoprevention trials, which use drugs to try to keep them from getting cancer.
Most of the genes that have been studied so far are from chromosomes that are inherited from both parents. One recent study found that a certain variant of mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from a person's mother, might double or even triple a man's risk of developing prostate cancer.
An exciting new development in genetics research is the use of DNA microarray technology which allows scientists to study thousands of genes at the same time. Using this method, researchers have identified several genes now thought to play a role in prostate cancer. This may eventually provide more sensitive screening test for prostate cancer than the PSA blood test currently in use.
One of the biggest problems now facing men with prostate cancer is figuring out which cancers are likely to stay within the gland and which are more likely to grow and spread (and definitely need treatment). New discoveries may help with this sometime in the near future. For example, the product of one gene identified by DNA microarray, known as EZH2, seems to appear more often in advanced prostate cancers than in those at an early stage. Researchers are now trying to decide whether the presence of this gene product, or others, indicates that a cancer is more aggressive. This could eventually help tell which men need treatment and which might be better served by watchful waiting.
Researchers continue to look for foods that increase or decrease prostate cancer risk. Scientists have found some substances in tomatoes (lycopenes) and soybeans (isoflavones) that may help prevent prostate cancer. Studies are now looking at the possible effects of these compounds more closely. Scientists are also trying to develop related compounds that are even more potent and might be used as dietary supplements. So far, most research suggests that a balanced diet including these foods as well as other fruits and vegetables is of greater benefit than taking these substances as dietary supplements.
Some studies have suggested that certain vitamin and mineral supplements (such as vitamin E and selenium) might lower prostate cancer risk. But a large study of this issue, called the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), found that neither vitamin E nor selenium supplements lowered prostate cancer risk after daily use for about 5 years.
Another vitamin that may be important is vitamin D. Recent studies have found that men with high levels of vitamin D seem to have a lower risk of developing the more lethal forms of prostate cancer. Overall though, studies have not found that vitamin D is protective for prostate cancer.
Many people assume that vitamins are natural substances that cause no harm, but recent research has shown that high doses may be harmful, including those supplements marketed specifically for prostate cancer. One study found that men who take more than 7 multivitamin tablets per week may have an increased risk of developing advanced prostate cancer.
Scientists have also tested certain hormonal medicines called 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors as a way of reducing prostate cancer risk. The results of these studies were discussed above in the section,
Doctors agree that the PSA blood test is not a perfect test for finding prostate cancer early. It misses some cancers, and in other cases it is elevated when cancer isn't present. Researchers are working on two strategies to address this problem.
The percent-free PSA is one way to do this, although it requires two separate tests. Another option might be to measure only the "complexed" PSA (the portion of PSA that is not "free") to begin with, instead of the total and free PSA. This one test could give the same amount of information as the other two done separately. Studies are now under way to see if this test provides the same level of accuracy.
The other approach is to develop new tests based on other tumor markers. Several newer blood tests seem to be more accurate than the PSA test, based on early studies. Another approach is to look for signs of the body's own immune reaction to substances made by prostate cancer cells. While early results have been promising, these and other new tests are not yet available outside of research labs and will require more study before they are widely used to test for prostate cancer.
Other new tests under study are urine tests. One test looks at the level of something called prostate cancer gene 3 (PCA3) in the urine. The higher the level, the more likely that prostate cancer is present. In studies, it was used along with the PSA test. Another test looks for an abnormal gene called TMPRSS2:ERG in prostate cells. The cells to be tested are found in urine given after a rectal exam. This gene is found in about half of all localized prostate cancers. It is rarely found in the cells of men without prostate cancer. Studies are underway to develop this into a test for early detection of prostate cancer.
Doctors performing prostate biopsies often rely on transrectal ultrasound (TRUS), which creates black and white images of the prostate using sound waves, to know where to take samples from. But standard ultrasound may not detect some areas containing cancer. A newer approach is to measure blood flow within the gland using a technique called color Doppler ultrasound. (Tumors often have more blood vessels around them than normal tissue.) It may make prostate biopsies more accurate by helping to ensure the right part of the gland is sampled. An even newer technique may enhance color Doppler further. It involves first injecting the patient with a contrast agent containing microbubbles. Promising results have been reported, but more studies will be needed before its use becomes common. This test is currently only available as a part of a clinical trial.
Staging plays a key role in deciding which treatment options a man may be eligible for. But imaging tests for prostate cancer such as CT and MRI scans can't detect all cancers, especially small areas of cancer in lymph nodes. A newer method, calledenhanced MRI, may help find lymph nodes that contain cancer. Patients first have a standard MRI. They are then injected with tiny magnetic particles and have another scan done the next day. Differences between the 2 scans point to possible cancer cells in the lymph nodes. Early results of this technique are promising, but it needs more research before it becomes widely used.
This is a very active area of research. Newer treatments are being developed, and improvements are being made among many standard prostate cancer treatment methods.
If the nerves that control erections (which run along either side of the prostate) must be removed during the operation, a man will become impotent. Some doctors are now exploring the use of nerve grafts to replace cut nerves and restore potency. These grafts could be nerves removed from other parts of the body or something artificial. This is still considered an experimental technique, and not all doctors agree as to its usefulness. Further study is under way.
Currently used methods such as conformal radiation therapy (CRT), intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), and proton beam radiation allow doctors to treat only the prostate gland and avoid radiation to normal tissues as much as possible. These methods are expected to increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy while reducing the side effects. Studies are being done to find out which radiation techniques are best suited for specific groups of patients with prostate cancer.
Technology is making other forms of radiation therapy more effective as well. New computer programs allow doctors to better plan the radiation doses and approaches for both external radiation therapy and brachytherapy. Planning for brachytherapy can now even be done during the procedure (intraoperatively).
Newer treatments for localized disease
Researchers are looking at newer forms of treatment for early stage prostate cancer. These new treatments could be used either as the first type of treatment or be used after radiation therapy in cases where it was not successful.
One promising treatment, known as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), destroys cancer cells by heating them with highly focused ultrasonic beams. This treatment has been used more in Europe, but it is not commonly employed in the United States at this time. Studies are now under way to determine its safety and effectiveness.
Nutrition and lifestyle changes
A recent study found that in men with a rising PSA after surgery or radiation therapy, drinking pomegranate juice seemed to slow the time it took the PSA level to double. Larger studies are now under way to try to confirm these results.
Some encouraging early results have also been reported with flaxseed supplements. One small study in men with early prostate cancer found that daily flaxseed seemed to slow the rate at which prostate cancer cells multiplied. More research is needed to confirm this finding.
A recent report found that men who chose not to have treatment for their localized prostate cancer may be able to slow its growth with intensive lifestyle changes. The men ate a vegan (no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products) diet and exercised frequently. They also took part in support groups and yoga. After one year the men saw, on average, a slight drop in their PSA level. It isn't known whether this effect will last since the report only followed the men for 1 year. The regimen may also be hard to follow for some men.
Even though LHRH agonists stop the testicles from making testosterone, the body can still make a small amount of androgens. A new drug, abiraterone (Zytiga™), blocks an enzyme called CYP17, which is needed for the body to make many hormones, including androgens (like testosterone). This drug has been studied in men whose cancers were growing despite low testosterone levels (from LHRH agonists or orchiectomy) and who had already been treated with the chemotherapy drug docetaxel (Taxotere). Abiraterone drug lowered levels of androgens even more. It also shrank tumors, lowered PSA levels, and helped the men live longer. There were few side effects. Because of these results, the FDA recently approved abiraterone for use in the US. This drug is taken as a pill every day. Because abiraterone lowers the level of certain other hormones in the body, prednisone (a cortisone-like drug) needs to be taken as well during treatment.
Studies in recent years have shown that many chemotherapy drugs can affect prostate cancer. Some, such as docetaxel and cabazitaxel (Jevtana) have been shown to help men live longer. Other new chemotherapy drugs and combinations of drugs are now being studied.
One drug that has been studied is satraplatin, which is taken as a pill. It was given to men with advanced, hormone-refractory prostate cancer whose cancer had already been treated with at least one chemo drug. It did help keep the cancers from growing, but it didn't seem to help the men live longer.
Prostate cancer vaccines
Several types of vaccines for boosting the body's immune response to prostate cancer cells are being tested in clinical trials. Unlike vaccines against infections like measles or mumps, these vaccines are designed to help treat, not prevent, prostate cancer. One possible advantage of these types of treatments is that they seem to have very limited side effects. One example of this type of vaccine which has received FDA approval is sipuleucel-T (Provenge).
Another prostate cancer vaccine (PROSTVAC-VF) uses a virus that has been genetically modified to contain prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The patient's immune system should respond to the virus and begin to recognize and destroy cancer cells containing PSA. This vaccine is still in early-stage clinical trials.
Several other prostate cancer vaccines are also in development.
Growth of prostate cancer tumors depends on growth of blood vessels (angiogenesis) to nourish the cancer cells. Looking at angiogenesis in prostate cancer specimens may help predict treatment outcomes. Cancers that stimulate many new vessels to grow are harder to treat and have a poorer outlook.
New drugs are being studied that may be useful in stopping prostate cancer growth by keeping new blood vessels from forming. Several anti-angiogenic drugs are already being tested in clinical trials. One of these is thalidomide, which has been approved by the FDA to treat patients with multiple myeloma. It is being combined with chemotherapy in clinical trials to treat men with advanced prostate cancer. While promising, this drug can cause major side effects, including constipation, drowsiness, and nerve damage.
Another drug, bevacizumab (Avastin®), is FDA-approved to treat patients with other cancers. It is now being tested in combination with hormone therapy and chemotherapy in men with advanced prostate cancer.
Treating bone pain
Doctors are now studying the use of radiofrequency ablation (RFA) to help control pain in men whose prostate cancer has spread to one or more areas in the bones. During RFA, the doctor uses computed tomography (CT) or ultrasound to guide a small metal probe into the area of the tumor. A high frequency current passed through the probe heats and destroys the tumor. RFA has been used for many years to treat tumors in other organs such as the liver, but its use in treating bone pain is still fairly new. Still, early results are promising.