Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Prostate cancer trials investigate treatments with reduced side effects

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men, with nearly 200,000 new diagnoses each year. But because prostate cancer often progresses slowly, the side effects of certain treatments sometimes outweigh the benefits of those treatments. VCU Massey Cancer Center is currently conducting approximately 10 clinical trials evaluating the latest therapies for prostate cancer. Two of these trials developed at Massey aim to eliminate the disease while reducing side effects from treatment.

“Radiation therapy is given using external beam techniques or through radioactive seeds planted directly inside a patient’s tumor or the area of a surgically removed tumor,” says Mitchell S. Anscher, M.D., the Florence and Hyman Meyers Chair of Radiation Oncology at VCU Massey Cancer Center and a lead investigator of these trials. “Unfortunately, healthy tissue is inevitably exposed to some amount of radiation in either technique. Using medical advances, including those being tested in our clinical trials, we hope to maximize the cancer-killing capacity of radiation therapies while protecting nearby organs.”

A Phase I clinical trial now enrolling patients at VCU Massey uses intensity-modulated external beam radiation therapy to shorten treatment times from eight weeks to six weeks while potentially reducing the amount of incidental radiation to healthy tissue. IMRT is a fairly recent development that delivers precise doses of radiation more accurately by using computer-controlled linear accelerators. Patients in this trial undergo two planning sessions prior to treatment. Markers are first inserted into the prostate to more accurately position the radiation. Then a CT scan is performed to determine the proper angle at which the radiation should be applied. This careful planning helps calculate appropriate radiation doses and intensities for each unique tumor.

Another clinical trial at Massey uses the drug lovastatin (also known as Altocor, Altoprev and Mevacor) to help prevent injury to the rectum, as well as the intestines, caused by radiation. Rectal injury is an unfortunate side effect of radiation therapy due to the rectum’s close proximity to the prostate. Laboratory research has shown lovastatin, originally approved by the FDA to treat high cholesterol, also mitigates the effects of radiation in endothelial cells that aid in circulatory function and line the intestines. Patients in this study are assessed to determine which type of radiation therapy will best treat their tumor, and then are given lovastatin for one year during and after their radiation treatments.

“Prostate cancer is a very common disease, and, as with any cancer, preserving quality of life during treatment is very important,” says Anscher. “Patients in these trials are receiving the best care available while helping bring forth new therapies that could aid many future patients.”

VCU Massey is currently conducting approximately a dozen prostate cancer clinical trials and more than 100 total trials on a variety of cancers. For more information about these and other prostate cancer trials, call Martha Wellons at (804) 628-1939. View a complete list of all active clinical trials available at VCU Massey.