Chemotherapy has evolved over time, yet despite refinements and reduced side effects, it still looms as a modern nightmare. Now, a new study has found that the addition of docetaxel, a common chemotherapy drug, to the usual hormone therapy for prostate cancer may prolong the lives of men with advanced forms of the disease. Dr. Christopher Sweeney, a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

"The benefit is substantial and warrants this being a new standard treatment for men who have [extensive] disease and are fit for chemotherapy," Sweeney told HealthDay.

How Prostate Cancer Is Usually Treated

For over half a century, hormone therapy — also called androgen deprivation therapy — has been the standard treatment for prostate cancer, which generally occurs in older men. Similar to breast cancer cells, which feed on female hormones, some prostate cancer cells have been found to "feed" on male hormones. To prevent prostate cancer cells from continuing to multiply, then, oncologists essentially chemically castrate their patients by reducing the levels of male hormones, called androgens, in the body.

For the new study, Sweeney and his colleagues divided 790 men newly diagnosed with advanced hormone-sensitive prostate cancer into two groups. One group received hormone therapy alone, while the other group were treated with hormone therapy plus docetaxel for 18 weeks. After follow-up (median amount of time: more than two years), the research team observed 136 deaths in the hormone therapy-only group, and 101 deaths in the hormone therapy-plus-docetaxel group. The team reported an average survival of 44 months in the hormone therapy group compared to 57.6 months in the hormone therapy/docetaxel group: more than a year of prolonged life.

For men whose prostate cancer had spread to major organs or bones, the average survival was even longer — 49.2 months in the hormone therapy/docetaxel group compared to just 32.2 months in the hormone therapy group. Importantly, the use of docetaxel also delayed cancer progression; progression after treatment was 19.8 months in the hormone therapy group and 32.7 months in the hormone therapy/docetaxel group.

"You don't need a clever statistician to identify differences when you see a difference of a year in median survival," Dr. Derek Raghavan of Carolinas Healthcare System's Levine Cancer Center, commented for MedPage Today. "That's a very big deal." Considering one man in seven will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, this new discovery should be good news for many.

Source: Sweeney C, Chen YH, Carducci MA, et al. Impact on overall survival (OS) with chemohormonal therapy versus hormonal therapy for hormone-sensitive newly metastatic prostate cancer (mPrCa): An ECOG-led phase III randomized trial. ASCO Annual Meeting. 2014.