Prostate cancer is the number one cancer affecting American men and it’s the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men (behind lung cancer).
- 248,530 new prostate cancer cases are anticipated in the U.S. in 2021, with 34,130 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
- About 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime.
- The average age at the time of diagnosis is 66, with about 60% of cases occurring in men aged 65 or older.
- Although men under the age of 40 can be diagnosed with prostate cancer, it is considered rare.
- More than 3.1 million men in the U.S. have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and are still alive today.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2021 and the Society’s website (2021)
Signs and Symptoms
A symptom is a change in the body that a person can see and/or feel. A sign is a change that the doctor sees during an examination or on a laboratory test result. If you have any of the symptoms below, it does not mean you have cancer but you should see your doctor or health care professional so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
- Problems urinating, including a slow or weak urinary stream or the need to urinate more often especially at night
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Trouble getting an erection (erectile dysfunction or ED)
- Pain in the hips, back (spine), chest (ribs), or other areas from cancer that has spread to bones
- Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet, or even loss of bladder or bowel control from cancer pressing on the spinal cord
Source: American Cancer Society’s website (2021)
Prostate Cancer Research
In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack prostate cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.
The best chance for a cure for many cancers is complete and successful surgery. Dr. James Basilion has developed a “smart” probe that when topically applied to the cancer during surgery, lights up only cancer cells and greatly improves the surgeon’s ability to detect tumor margins in prostate, breast, colon and lung cancer. Usually, an assessment of margins is done after surgery and patients return home. The smart probe will fulfill the unmet clinical need to reduce repeat surgeries at a later time for removal of remaining cancer tissue. Use of the probe may reduce the chance of cancer spreading, and can increase the rate of a surgical cure. With support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, the probe is being optimized towards a Phase I clinical trial initially for lumpectomies to further enhance cure rates for patients with early stage breast cancer. Success with this trial will facilitate clinical use of this “smart” for patients with prostate and other cancers.
Cancer that spreads from the primary tumor (metastasis) is the major reason that cancer patients lose their battle. Dr. Danny Welch discovered that mitochondria – a specialized cell part that generates energy for our bodies – may determine why cancer metastases develop in some patients, but not in others. Differences in tumor formation, metastasis location and responses to therapy could be from our mitochondrial DNA. With continued success, this research may suggest that a simple blood test can help guide doctors in treating those patients who are susceptible to metastasis and may need more aggressive treatment. Or, such a blood test could spare patients at low risk from having to undergo some of the side effects of treatment.
Dr. Welch’s team has identified eight genes that get turned off when cancer cells become metastatic cells – known as ‘metastasis suppressor genes’. KISS1 gene was originally discovered in models of melanoma and his team determined that cells expressing KISS1 can complete all of the early steps of the metastatic process but do not form a new metastatic site. His team has shown the same results in prostate cancer models. This research can lead to unique anti-metastasis therapeutics that ‘mimic’ the ‘lost’ KISS1 protein to arrest formation of metastatic sites in prostate and other types of cancer.
Dr. Paul Fisher develops gene therapies with IL/24, an immune modulator gene he previously discovered. IL/24 protein causes primary and spreading tumor cells throughout the body to commit ‘cell suicide’ but is non-toxic to healthy cells. IL/24 activates the immune system, inhibits new blood vessel formation to starve tumors of vital blood and nutrients, and sensitizes tumor cells to radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. One type of IL/24 gene therapy includes a gene that fluoresces (lights up for imaging) when IL/24 finds and destroys tumor cells for a detection- and treatment-monitoring approach (known as theranostic). Another therapy combines IL/24 with a patient’s own immune T cells (adoptive cell therapy) to supercharge the T cells to fight cancer. Together, Dr. Fisher and Dr. Web Cavenee are developing these gene therapies for prostate, breast, lung, colon, brain and other cancers.
Dr. Fisher also discovered MDA-9/ Syntenin, a gene that promotes the deadly spread (metastasis) of many cancers. He and Dr. Cavenee discovered PDZ1i, an innovative drug that blocks the gene’s signals for metastasis. PDZ1i may be effective in treating prostate and numerous metastatic cancers.