– Prostate cancer: the importance of patient empowerment

In the last few months, our team has gathered interesting material about where we are in prostate cancer research.  At the European Society of Medical Oncology Congress (ESMO) we had the opportunity to interview two top oncologists: Dr. Bertrand Tombal, from Institute Charles Bordet in Brussels; and Dr. Carles Galceran, from Vall d’Hebron Hospital in Barcelona. You can see their interviews at Patient Power, the leading online cancer channel, and partner of us.

Only a couple of few weeks ago in Barcelona we attended the 9th European Multidisciplinary Meeting on Urological Cancers (EMUC). We talked to Dr. Silke Gillessen, a world-renowned prostate cancer specialist that works at Kantonshospital Saint Gallen, in Switzerland.  Gillessen told us about the rapidly evolving prostate cancer treatment landscape and how important it is for patients to be informed about the implications of the possible secondary effects: “Prostate cancer is located in a very delicate location.  Treatment can affect the patient’s sexual function and in some cases it can cause incontinence, urinary and bowel problems and loss of fertility.  It is important to be informed beforehand.”

After graduating at the Medical School of the University in Basel, Dr. Gillessen moved to Boston where she trained at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  In 2001 she came back to Switzerland. “The treatment landscape has changed a great deal since I came back home.  Now we are experimenting with immunotherapy and targeted therapies and we have numerous options for patients with metastatic disease” says Dr. Gillessen.


In the metastatic scenario we have now various treatment options, including chemotherapy, oral therapies and one targeted therapy for bone metastasis.  For Dr. Bertrand Tombal “in patients with metastatic disease, it is important to have a combination of the drugs and to be monitored carefully to control the progression of the cancer.” Watch his interview here.


The importance of genetic tests

Understanding the genetic make-up of the tumour is becoming increasingly important in prostate cancer. Despite genetic testing is not done routinely in Europe, in some cases there might be a genetic predisposition in the family. It is the case of those families affected by the BRCA mutation which increases the possibilities of developing breast and ovarian cancer in women, and prostate cancer in men. Other patients have DNA mismatch repair mutations that also increase the risk of developing cancer. It is important to find out if a patient carries these mutations in order to personalise the therapy and, equally important, to take prevention measures in his family.

Immunotherapy: not quite there in prostate cancer
Immunotherapy, a treatment that prepares the immune system to attack the cancer cells, has shown incredible results in certain lung cancer and melanoma patients (around 20%). However, this therapeutic approach is not showing very good results in prostate cancer. There is only one immunotherapy treatment for prostate cancer approved in the US and none is approved in Europe. “We can’t expect the same good results that immunotherapy is having in other cancers. For now, we have to concentrate in optimising the therapy and to do a better selection of the patients,” says, Gillessen.

In prostate cancer, like in most diseases, Patient Empowerment is key to live well with the disease. As Dr. Gillessen says, “we can’t forget that prostate cancer still kills,” Aside from the research and clinical work done by brilliant specialists such as Gillessen, Tombal, and Galceran, patient empowerment is being promoted by groups like Europa Uomo, an umbrella organisation that gathers prostate cancer groups from all over Europe. At ESMO we interviewed its President Ken Mastris and board member André Dechamps. They both explained their prostate cancer journey and how important it is for men to be aware of the disease and, in case of developing it, how to prevent undesirable side-effects.

Did you like this article? If you are a prostate cancer patient or caregiver and want to share your story, write to us.  

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