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Can we stop prostate cancer from growing and spreading?

By Dr Jennifer Munkley

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, affecting 1 in 8 men within their lifetime. And in the UK alone, more than 11,500 men die from prostate cancer every year. That’s one man every 45 minutes.

Prostate cancer mainly affects men that are over 50, and the risk of prostate cancer increases as men age. But what are the key signs to look out for? And how does it occur? In our latest blog, we've explored prostate cancer and the amazing work that Dr Jennifer Munkley and her team are doing to stop prostate cancer spreading, and develop life-saving therapies,

What are the key signs of prostate cancer?

The prostate is a gland that sits underneath the bladder, and its main job is to make the fluid that carries sperm.

Many men with prostate cancer don’t have any signs or symptoms, though some men may have changes in the way they urinate (wee) but it's likely this is caused by a common, non-cancerous condition called an enlarged prostate.

If prostate cancer breaks out of the prostate or spreads to other areas of the body, there can be other symptoms. These may include:

  • back pain
  • hip or pelvis pain
  • erectile dysfunction
  • blood in the urine
  • weight loss

Though each of these symptoms can all be caused by alternative health problems, and they're not always going to be as a result of prostate cancer, it's vital that anyone experiencing these symptoms tell their GP.


How prostate cancer occurs

Prostate cancer develops when cells within the prostate start growing uncontrollably.

Some prostate cancers grow slowly and don’t cause any problems. But unfortunately, for some people, prostate cancer grows quickly and spreads to other parts of the body.

These are the people who need treatment to stop their cancer spreading.

Depending on the stage of cancer, there are different avenues of treatment available. Those with localised disease can undergo surgery for prostate cancer, which is known as a radical prostatectomy.

Other treatments for prostate cancer include:

  • cryotherapy
  • high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU)
  • brachytherapy
  • radiotherapy


Prostate cancer survival rates

When prostate cancer is found early, the prognosis is good. In fact, 95% of patients will still be alive after five years.

Unfortunately, around 13% of those diagnosed with prostate cancer have advanced disease.

This means their cancer has spread from the prostate to another part of the body, which is called metastasis.

Prostate cancer can spread to any part of the body, but it most commonly spreads to lymph nodes and bone and there's currently no cure for this. 


Can you treat advanced prostate cancer?

Yes. For men with advanced prostate cancer, the first-line treatment is hormone therapy – where drugs are used to block or remove the male hormone testosterone. Upon initial diagnosis, most prostate tumours need testosterone to grow, meaning hormone therapy usually works well to start with.

However, most patients eventually relapse and this treatment stops working.

Numerous ‘second generation’ hormone therapy drugs are available however, nearly all affected men will also develop resistance to these treatments with time. It's estimated that 350,000 men die of prostate cancer yearly, and new therapies for advanced disease are urgently needed.


What we're doing to mitigate prostate cancer

Dr Jennifer Munkley, from the Newcastle University Centre for Cancer, and her team are working towards new breakthrough treatments for prostate cancer to provide a better future for sufferers and their families.

All of the cells in our body are coated in complex sugars, and cancer changes these sugars in order to encourage tumours to grow and spread. Jennifer’s research focuses on these sugars, and explores how they can be exploited to develop new therapies for advanced prostate cancer.

The team aims to use an innovative sugar-targeting approach to both stop prostate cancer spreading, and develop new life-saving therapies.

New treatments are currently being tested in the laboratory, but it is hoped the findings can be translated into clinical trials to ultimately make an impact for men with prostate cancer.

Find out more about the steps we're taking to tackle cancer and support those who are affected by it in our blog. Alternatively, receive the latest insights and research news directly to your inbox, when you sign up for our research newsletter. 


Tags: Alumni, Ageing and Health, Sustainable Development