Immunotherapy Could Improve Health Outcomes for Many Prostate Cancer Patients

New cancer research suggests that immunotherapy could be a new source of hope for men with otherwise “incurable” prostate cancer. 

In a new study, UK researchers analyzed data from 258 patients who had tried all other treatment options, but with no success. 

These men were administered an IV drug called pembrolizumab, which goes by the brand name Keytruda and is intended to boost the body’s immune response to disease.  Of the men involved with the study, 20 saw their tumors diminish or disappear completely. More importantly, though, about one in five (nearly 20 percent) reported some improvement. 

While full remission was only demonstrated in a handful of patients, 166 participants entered the study with an advanced stage of the disease and with high levels of PSA. This is a protein that is often a sure sign of prostate cancer.  For these patients, pembrolizumab is believed to have extended their life by, on average, about eight months. 

Study co-lead Professor Johann de Bono comments, “We don’t see much activity from the immune system in prostate tumours, so many oncologists thought immunotherapy wouldn’t work for this cancer type.  But our study shows that a small proportion of men with end-stage cancer do respond, and crucially that some of these men do very well indeed.”

The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust consultant medical oncologist goes on to say, “We found that men with mutations in DNA repair genes respond especially well to immunotherapy, including two of my own patients who have now been on the drug for more than two years.”

The results of this study are quite promising, of course, as prostate cancer affected nearly 48,000 men in the United Kingdom between 2014 and 2016, according to Cancer Research UK.  Similarly, more than 174,600 men in the United States are expected to receive this diagnosis by the end of this year, according to data from the American Cancer Society.  In all, there were more than 1,276,100 prostate cancers diagnosed, globally, in 2018. 

At the end of the day, de Bono asserts, “Our study has shown a small proportion of men with very advanced prostate cancer are super responders to immunotherapy and cold live for at least two years and possibly considerably longer.”


The results of this study have been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. 

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