Prostate cancer steroids may speed up tumour growth

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A major study has warned that common treatments for prostate cancer may boost tumour growth.

Researchers have found that commonly prescribed steroid drugs stop working with extended use, but it may also start spreading the cancer.

The study was undertaken by the Institute of Cancer Research, the University of Trento in Italy and the Royal Marsden Foundation Trust. It involved 16 males with advanced prostate cancer.

The research discovered that the use of glucocorticoids, steroid drugs used with hormonal therapy, coincided with mutations which led to the activation of the disease by the drugs. This has prompted them to recommend that in future, males with advanced cancer should have regular blood tests done to identify the mutations and allow for a change in treatment.

They stipulated that ‘liquid biopsies’, which analyse the tumour DNA present in the blood, would offer a more accurate view of cancer development in patients, which will allow more targeted treatment options.

The study made use of complex genetic analyses of blood samples and biopsies from patients suffering with advanced prostate cancer.

The leader of the study, Dr Gerhardt Attard, a Cancer Research UK Clinician Scientist at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said the study indicated that steroid treatments given to those with advanced prostate cancer may be very effective initially, but later would start to activate harmful mutations and this coincided with the re-growth of the cancer.

Interim Chief Executive at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, Professor Paul Workman, said drug resistance is the biggest challenge they face in regard to cancer treatment and research and they are only at the starting point of their understanding of how its development is driven by evolving pressures on tumours.

He said this discovery has made it clear how some cancer treatments may actually boost the survival of nasty cancer cells. It indicates that patients should be monitored on a regular basis by undergoing blood tests to allow for tracking and intervention in the growth of their disease.

The Deputy Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, Dr Matthew Hobbs, said there are presently too few treatment options for males living with advanced forms of the disease. He said there is a desperate need for more treatments to be found for this particular group and there is also the need to understand when the available treatments become ineffective and the reason behind it.

He added that this research was important because it aided in pinpointing the point at which some of the drugs become ineffective. He said that this could act as a warning for doctors that they need to make sure that no time is wasted between the time a drug becomes ineffective and a new treatment option being offered to the patient.

He warned that the study was in its early stages and was done with a small component of patients, which means larger studies are required.

Image Credit: Libertas Academica

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