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Life-extending prostate cancer treatment effective for African American men

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Dr. Gary Kirsh and Dr. Brooke Edwards. Photo provided

By Dr. Gary Kirsh and Dr. Brooke Edwards

The Urology Group

Healthcare professionals in Greater Cincinnati and around the country are observing Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in September. This provides a timely opportunity to generate awareness regarding a life-extending prostate cancer treatment that is particularly beneficial for African American men.

It’s worth noting that prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in African American men, representing 31 percent of all cancers in these men, according to the American Cancer Society. The lifetime probability of an African American man dying of prostate cancer is almost double that of a Caucasian man.

So it’s vital to get the word out that an FDA-approved immunotherapy has been shown to provide an additional overall survival benefit of 9.3 months for African American men compared to Caucasian men for those suffering from advanced prostate cancer that has become resistant to first line therapy. Prostate cancer is considered advanced if it has spread outside the prostate to other parts of the body such as lymph nodes or bones. First line therapy consists of medication that blocks the man’s production of testosterone (hormone therapy), since testosterone feeds the growth of prostate cancer.

The numbers tell the story: 37.3 months overall survival for African Americans versus 28 months overall survival for Caucasians.

When African American men with advanced prostate cancer are identified at the earliest possible stage that they begin to fail hormone therapy, the benefits of immunotherapy are significantly greater: 54.3 months for African American patients versus 33.4 months for Caucasian patients. That’s a difference of 20.9 months, or almost two years. This is why it is so critical that men with advanced prostate cancer be monitored carefully by their treating physician.

Immunotherapy works by activating a patient’s own immune system to seek out and attack prostate cancer. These compelling immunotherapy results were delivered at the American Urological Association’s annual meeting this year in Boston.

Fortunately, the immunotherapy news is good for all men, not just African Americans.

The American Urological Association’s presentation was based on a study of 1,900 patients. The major finding was that men — Caucasian, African American and others — with advanced prostate cancer who received immunotherapy lived an average of 2.5 years. The FDA-approved immunotherapy treatment is called Provenge.

It’s important to raise awareness among all men about the risks of prostate cancer so that it may be detected in a curable stage, before it becomes advanced. Prostate cancer is a confusing disease; while some prostate cancers are less dangerous and may be observed without treatment, in other men the cancer may be very aggressive, evidenced by the fact that prostate cancer is second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in American men.

The American Cancer Society recommends that men make an informed decision with their healthcare provider about screening for prostate cancer with a simple blood test called the PSA. The discussion about PSA screening should take place at age 50 for men who are at average risk and at 45 for men at high risk of developing prostate cancer. Those at high risk include all African American men, and men with a family history of prostate cancer in a close relative.

Placing the spotlight this month on immunotherapy for African Americans with advanced prostate cancer serves to alert these patients, their families, and their physicians to the benefit of early adoption of immunotherapy. In order to achieve this goal, men with advanced prostate cancer need regular and careful monitoring by their urologist.

Dr. Gary Kirsh is president of The Urology Group in Cincinnati. Dr. Brooke Edwards is chief medical officer of The Urology Group.

For more information, visit www.urologygroup.com.

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