In labs around the world, researchers are busy identifying new drugs and treatment approaches that might prove beneficial to men with prostate cancer. Most of these investigational agents are being tested in men with advanced prostate cancer: therapy options for men at this stage of disease may not be effective enough to halt progression of the disease, and men are typically affected by side effects from the disease and/or the medications that they’re taking. It’s therefore the perfect stage at which to test out new drugs because any improvement will likely be rapidly noticed and much appreciated.
Chemotherapy drugs can play an important role in improving the lives of men with advanced prostate cancer, but they often don’t distinguish between tumor cells and healthy cells to a high degree and can kill off some normal cells along the way. So-called targeted therapies, by contrast, are drugs that are specifically designed to interfere with the way cancer cells grow, with the way cancer cells interact with each other, and/or with the way that the immune system interact with the cancer without damaging a man’s normal cells.
There are a number of different kinds of targeted therapies being investigated for prostate cancer. As of yet, none have been approved by the FDA for use in prostate cancer, but the excitement generated by some of the early studies have led many researchers to believe that it’s only a matter of time before a targeted therapy is found that can result in better outcomes overall.
All cells in the body, including cancer cells, rely on a complex communication system to know when to grow, when to divide, and when to die. This system uses specialized proteins, fats, and other substances to tell the different cells or parts of cells how to act. Over the years, cancer researchers have been studying ways to interfere with the signaling system that regulates the growth of cancer cells.
So far, interfering with cellular signaling to halt cancer cell growth hasn’t yet proven to be a very effective strategy in prostate cancer. But in the process of learning which drugs might work and why, researchers found that the strategy of adding a “targeted therapy” to other effective drugs in order to see better results than with either drug alone is an important part of cancer research. The idea is to exploit the synergy between the two drugs, or the ways in which the two drugs might work together to fight off the cancer.