Science

Could testosterone be the key to curing prostate cancer?

A new study from Johns Hopkins shows a breakthrough in one of the leading cancers in men

About one man in seven will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. According to the American Cancer Society’s estimates for prostate cancer in for 2016, about 180,890 new cases of prostate cancer will have been diagnosed this year, and about 26,120 men will have died.

But some promising results of a new study at out of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine were just made public: A man with advanced prostate cancer is believed to be cured after his tumor was  “shocked to death” with large amounts of testosterone. And other gravely ill men in the same study have shown remarkable improvement. These results were completely unexpected by experts, as leading prostate cancer therapies to date were based on depriving tumors of testosterone since cancer can use it as a fuel.

“We are still in the early stages of figuring out how this works and how to incorporate it into the treatment paradigm for prostate cancer. Many of the men have stable disease that has not progressed for more than 12 months. I think we may have cured one man whose PSA dropped to zero after three months and has remained so now for 22 cycles. His disease has all disappeared,” says Professor Sam Denmeade who led the study.

The Telegraph reports that all the patients in the study had cancer that was spreading and resistant to two common hormone therapy drugs.

For decades now, advanced prostate cancer patients were treated by cutting off the supply of testosterone — or blocking its effects. But lab experiments had nevertheless shown that tumors responded to being blasted with high levels of the hormone. The treatment doctors used in the new trial involved “three cycles of bipolar androgen therapy (BAT) which involves alternately flooding and starving the body of the male hormone testosterone.” The men were injected with high doses of  testosterone once every 28 days, while at the same time they were given a drug that stopped the testicles from naturally producing testosterone.

Prof. Denmeade said it was still not clear how the treatment worked, but it appeared to involve cell signaling and part of the process of cell division. Large doses of testosterone also seemed to cause prostate cancer cells to make breaks in their DNA. Cancer cells stopped dividing and turned “senescent,” meaning they “become like old men who sit around and tell stories but don’t make much trouble,” said the professor.

The research is concerned “early stage” and experts want to see further studies to better understand just how it works, but all agree that it’s very promising.

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Zoe Romanowsky

Zoe Romanowsky is Lifestyle and Video Editor at Aleteia's English edition