As reported by Bloomberg.com, June 10, 2009.

Chemical Castration Needed to Fight Prostate Cancer, Study Says

By Michelle Fay Cortez

Prostate cancer patients need three years of treatment known as chemical castration to suppress the production of tumor-fueling hormones and improve their chance of survival, a study found.

Researchers hoped to find that cutting back on the drugs would provide the same benefit as longer-term treatment, while reducing side effects such as heart attacks, hot flashes, sexual dysfunction and fractures. The study in the New England Journal of Medicine instead found patients treated for six months were more likely to die than those on the drugs for several years.

“Overall mortality was higher with short-term androgen suppression than with long-term suppression, as was prostate- cancer specific mortality,” said the researchers led by Michel Bolla from Grenoble University Hospital in France.

Prostate cancer is the most common malignancy in men. It is diagnosed in more than 186,000 patients each year in the U.S. and kills 28,660, according to the American Cancer Society. Chemical castration blocks production of male sex hormones and can reduce testosterone levels by 90 percent to 95 percent.

The study tracked 970 patients with locally advanced prostate cancer who were treated with radiation and either six months or three years of treatment with Ipsen SA’s Decapeptyl to block production of the hormone androgen. After five years, a standard measurement for cancer survival, 19 percent of the men given six months of drug treatment died, compared with 15.2 percent getting long-term therapy.

Cancer Deaths

The European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer funded the study, together with grants from Ipsen, based in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, and the French Ministry of Health. The company also provided the Decapeptyl.

It’s unclear if the findings will apply to the growing number of men with low-risk, early-stage disease that is detected with blood tests, wrote Peter Albertsen, from the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, in an editorial. Studies are under way that should determine whether men with early-stage disease that hasn’t spread need the drugs in addition to radiation therapy, he said.

“Until then, androgen-deprivation therapy for clinically localized disease should be limited primarily to men with advanced localized disease undergoing radiation therapy and to men with clear signs of systemic disease,” Albertsen wrote. “These are the patients most likely to benefit from either symptom relief or increased survival that would justify the compromise in quality of life that is associated with androgen- deprivation therapy.”