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News from the Prostate Cancer Support Group

With more and more men being diagnosed with prostate cancer, quite often in an advanced stage, due to the reluctance of most men to visit a doctor to get checked out when they experience early symptoms. With the statistics indicating that prostate cancer is now the Number 1 cancer in the UK, there is even more need for active support groups to help men and their partners cope with what is usually a very stressful time for both.

In addition it was most encouraging to hear some of the developments in new treatments, at our recent group meeting when we were very privileged to have Dr Hayley Luxton, who heads up the research for Prostate Cancer UK as our speaker. The charity started to support research just 25 years ago in London and now its supported R & D programme runs to over 50 current projects round the UK. For example, they have identified that sons of patients are two and a half times more likely to also develop the disease, and this risk can be passed on down to grandsons through both the male and female line.

The charity’ R & D aims are to improve diagnosis especially in early tumour identification; improve treatment combined with fewer side effects and less long-term harm; and the use of smart data, covering areas such as curative rates for different treatments, with the long-term aim of using this as guidance for future patients in treatment selection. It goes about this by aiming to fund ideas in their early stages, which with promising results can then be passed to the much bigger funders for large scale trials.

One of the charity’s big successes has been the change in the diagnostic pathway, which now in almost all cases includes an early MRI scan, ensuring that any subsequent biopsy is accurately focused. A number of new R & D avenues are already showing interesting results, and members were surprised to hear that there are a number of different types of prostate cancer, with one man being identified with three different types.

Considerable work is currently underway in refining testing for this disease, with the aim of improving accuracy as well as making sample collection of appropriate fluids easier, such as urine samples. What is also now known is that the tumours create different sugars which can be detected in these urine samples, and that the more complex the sugar the more aggressive the cancer is likely to be. Another area where R & D is being expanded has arisen, as new unique bacteria have been found in men with prostate cancer.

Whilst Hailey’s talk was relatively short, this was followed by a very lively Q & A session, with big areas such as immunotherapy being a major point for discussion. In answer, on this topic, Hailey highlighted that only two major cancers are hormone driven, breast and prostate, and whilst there are many more immune cells in the breast so far this approach had not yet yielded results for prostate cancer. However more work is ongoing to try to encourage more immune cells in the prostate, with perhaps vaccines being delivered using skin patches. In answer to questions on the use of smart data, Hailey highlighted how the overlaying of multiple MRI scans combined with AI was starting to show promising results both in terms of accurate diagnosis and in speed of analysis.

With time up, most of us felt we could have spent many more hours listening to Hailey and learning so much more about this very serious disease and how this excellent charity is making a huge difference to so many men and their partners.

Keith Bunker