First Evidence That Chemotherapy Extends Life in
Advanced Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer, docetaxel (Taxotere®), chemotherapy . (Definitions
of many terms related to cancer can be found in the MedTerms Dictionary.)
Chemotherapy regimens that include the drug docetaxel extend median
survival by two to three months in patients with advanced prostate cancer that
is no longer responsive to hormone therapy, two large phase III studies have
shown. These are the first clinical trials to show that chemotherapy can improve
survival in advanced prostate cancer.
American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, New Orleans,
June 7, 2004. Final results subsequently published in the October 7, 2004, issue
of the New England Journal of Medicine (links to the journal abstracts, below).
Therapies that lower the body's level of the male sex hormone
testosterone, which encourages prostate cancer growth, are the mainstay of
treatment for prostate cancer that has spread to other organs. However, many
patients stop responding to hormonal therapies after two to three years of
treatment. No effective therapy currently exists for advanced prostate cancer
that stops responding to hormonal therapy.
Chemotherapy with the drugs prednisone and mitoxantrone has been shown to
reduce pain in men with advanced prostate cancer that has spread to the bones,
but this regimen does not help patients to live any longer. Several previous
studies of different chemotherapy regimens had failed to identify a drug or
combination of drugs that extended patients' survival.
Study 1 (Southwest Oncology Group and others)
This study (see the journal
abstract) involved 770 men with advanced prostate cancer no longer responding to
hormonal therapy. The men were randomly assigned to treatment with the drugs
docetaxel and estramustine or with prednisone and mitoxantrone. The latter
treatment is the only currently approved treatment for prostate cancer patients
at this point in their disease.
The trial was conducted by a number of cooperative groups sponsored by the
National Cancer Institute, led by the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG).
Study 1 Results
After a median follow-up period of 32 months, men who
received docetaxel and estramustine lived for a median of 18 months. By
contrast, men treated with prednisone and mitoxantrone lived for a median of 16
months, said one of the lead researchers, Daniel Petrylak, M.D., of Columbia
University in New York. Progression of disease was delayed for twice as long
(six months compared with three months) in patients treated with docetaxel and
Severe side effects - particularly stomach and heart problems - occurred more
frequently in the docetaxel/estramustine group. However, the number of patient
deaths due to adverse reactions to chemotherapy was about the same in both
Levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) - an enzyme that can be elevated in
men with prostate cancer - declined more in patients treated with
docetaxel/estramustine than in those on standard therapy, Petrylak added.
Study 2 (Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.)
This study (see the journal abstract)
involved 1,006 men in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Latin America. As
with the SWOG study, all participants had advanced prostate cancer that had
stopped responding to hormonal therapy. The men were randomly assigned to one of
three treatment groups:
- One group got weekly doses of the drugs prednisone and
- A second group got a higher dose of docetaxel, plus
prednisone, every three weeks.
- A third group got the standard treatment of prednisone and mitoxantrone every
This study was supported by Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which
Study 2 Results
Patients were followed for a median of 20.7 months. Those who
received docetaxel and prednisone at three-week intervals survived a median of
18.9 months. By contrast, median survival for patients treated with weekly
docetaxel and prednisone was 17.4 months. Patients treated with prednisone and
mitoxantrone lived for a median of 16.5 months.
More patients on the three-week docetaxel/prednisone regimen suffered low
white blood cell counts; nevertheless, their levels of infection and fatigue
were similar to the other groups.