Gaining Ground on Prostate Cancer

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By Lana Maciel, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Thirty years ago, the five-year survival rate among men diagnosed with prostate cancer hovered at around 69%. Thanks to medical advances and treatment options, survival rates today are notably high, at nearly 100% after five years.

The 15-year rate is just as impressive at 76%. It's a promising sign that doctors and researchers are gaining an even stronger upper hand on the most common cancer among men.

Prostate cancer
develops from an overproduction of cells in the prostate, the gland in the male reproductive system below the bladder and in front of the rectum. This cell growth damages surrounding tissue and inhibits normal function of the gland.

More than two million men live with the disease today, and in 2009, more than 192,000 were diagnosed with it. An estimated one in six men will develop the disease during their lifetimes, which is why screening tests are critical. When detected early, prostate cancer is nearly 100% curable.

Are you at risk?
Though prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, age is the strongest risk factor, and the disease typically does not appear until after age 50.

Other risk factors include:

  • Family history -- Men with a father or brother who has had prostate cancer are likely to inherit these same DNA changes.

  • Race -- Prostate cancer is more common among African-American men, who have nearly twice the incidence compared to Caucasian men. It is less common in Asian or Hispanic/Latino men. Researchers are still unclear as to why these racial differences exist.

  • Diet -- High-fat diets and frequent consumption of red meats have been linked to prostate cancer risk. Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet is believed to decrease risk.

  • Weight changes -- Some studies have found that obese or overweight men have a higher risk of developing the disease. In one study funded by the National Cancer Institute, researchers at MD Anderson found that a man's weight at the time of diagnosis and his history of weight gain play key roles in how aggressive the cancer may become.

Treatment and survival
Early detection as well as modern treatments for prostate cancer have helped decrease the disease's mortality rate over the past three decades. In addition to chemotherapy, hormone therapy and the traditional prostatectomy, in which the prostate is removed through open surgery, advanced technologies have allowed for more minimally invasive procedures and different types of radiation.

These include:

  • Robotic laparoscopic radical prostatectomy (LRP) -- A tiny camera is attached to a thin tube and inserted through an incision in the abdomen. While viewing the camera footage on a monitor, surgeons remotely control robotic arms that use small instruments to perform the surgery and remove the prostate. Robotic LRP procedures are more precise and have fewer side effects and faster recovery times.

  • Radiation -- Radiation therapy is offered both internally and externally. External options include proton therapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) or the more common external beam radiation. Brachytherapy is a one-time procedure done internally by implanting tiny radioactive metallic seeds into the prostate.

Navigating the roadmap
These are just a few of a patient's options for prostate cancer treatment. But with so many different avenues of therapy, patients may feel that they need the equivalent of a roadmap to help guide them through the experience and select the best treatment option.

MD Anderson's Multidisciplinary Prostate Cancer Clinic serves just that purpose. There, a team of specialists from various disciplines comes together to assess a patient's condition from their own medical vantage points and collaborates on finding the best individual treatment.

In other words, a visit to the clinic is much like having a panel of experts confer about their separate evaluations of a patient's condition and return with their best advice.

For patients living with prostate cancer, the clinic tends to make the journey a little easier. And it's one more arm in the fight to keep prostate cancer survival rates near the 100% mark.

Related stories and Multimedia:
When specialists confer, patients benefit (Network, Winter 2010)

Enlightened choices: Individualized options for prostate cancer patients (Conquest, Spring 2010)

Choosing the Right Treatment For Prostate Cancer (Cancerwise)

Making Cancer History: Focus on prostate cancer (video)

Multidisciplinary Prostate Cancer Clinic (audio)

MD Anderson resources:
Prostate cancer

Multidisciplinary Prostate Cancer Clinic

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