Prostate Cancer Awareness: Survival rate has soared

September 1, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So

Have questions about prostate cancer? Check out our TweetChat.

Cy Stein, M.D., Ph.D., and Mark Kawachi, M.D., associate clinical professor in City of Hope's Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology, participated in a TweetChat on Thursday, Sept. 5, from 11 a.m. to noon Pacific. They discussed prostate cancer research, screening, treatment and management of possible side effects such as incontinence and impotence. To read a log of that TweetChat, click here.

Real medical breakthroughs are few and far between, but advances in treating prostate cancer come close.

Photomicrograph of invasive prostate adenocarcinoma Photomicrograph of invasive prostate adenocarcinoma. (Photo courtesy of National Institutes of Health)

Over the last 40 years, the overall five-year relative survival rate for prostate cancer patients has jumped from 64 percent in 1973 to over 99 percent now. Further, men diagnosed with local or regional prostate cancer today have what's considered a 100 percent chance of five-year survival, due to improvements in fighting the disease with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Despite this overwhelming success, obstacles remain in diagnosing and treating the disease. The month of September, designated Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, offers an opportunity to reflect on the successes and the challenges.

"The PSA [prostate specific antigen] test is not all it's cracked up to be," said Cy Stein, M.D., Ph.D., City of Hope's Arthur & Rosalie Kaplan Chair in Medical Oncology. "But it's one of the very few tools we have available now to screen for and monitor the disease."

And for men whose cancers are not detected until they've metastasized to distant areas of the body, the survival odds plummets to less than 28 percent. And prostate cancer will claim the lives of almost 30,000 men this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Despite those still daunting statistics, Stein wants to dispel the myth that men with advanced prostate cancer have few treatment choices.

"Over the past decade, we have made great strides in discovering new drugs that fight prostate cancer with less toxicity to the body, giving doctors and patients more treatment options than ever before," Stein said.

Stein noted that since 2010, the Food and Drug Administration has approved five new drugs for prostate cancer, plus more potential therapies currently under study in clinical trials.

The next frontier in prostate cancer treatment is using targeted therapies and being able to identify subsets of prostate cancer patients that are best suited for these fine-tuned regimens, Stein said.

But even he admits that "we've come a long way ... most patients nowadays can expect real results and maintain an excellent quality of life."

Join our Prostate Cancer TweetChat on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 11 am. Follow #ProstateChat to participate.

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