Cancer ef­forts unite to con­quer

The Australian - - THE NATION - JOHN ROSS SCI­ENCE WRITER

They are can­cers in com­pe­ti­tion: one a killer of women in their prime, the other a silent stalker of grey­ing men.

Breast cancer sur­vival rates have soared, thanks to a re­search blitzkrieg fu­elled by pub­lic re­la­tions ex­trav­a­gan­zas and a pow­er­ful women’s health lobby. Prostate cancer has strug­gled to achieve the same pro­file, with sto­icism and squeamish­ness hold­ing back the ad­vances through aware­ness cam­paigns such as the Movem­ber movement.

Two char­i­ties will join forces in a re­search drive that ex­ploits the two dis­eases’ bi­o­log­i­cal sim­i­lar­i­ties. A $2.5 mil­lion re­search grant from Movem­ber and Na­tional Breast Cancer foun­da­tions will cor­ral 20 years of dis­cov­er­ies by teams in Aus­tralia and Bri­tain into a ma­jor re­search project.

It aims to over­haul the hor­mone de­pri­va­tion ther­apy ap­proach used to treat the dis­eases for decades, af­ter sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that sex hor­mones — oe­stro­gen in women, an­dro­gens such as testos­terone in men — drove the growth and spread of both types of tu­mours.

Clin­i­cians use drugs to choke the body’s pro­duc­tion of the hor­mones or block the re­cep­tors that re­ceive sig­nals from them. But the re­cep­tors can de­velop re­sis­tance to treat­ments, and the side ef­fects of com­pletely de­priv­ing the body of hor­mones — early menopause, im­po­tence, joint pain, fa­tigue and de­pres­sion — pres­sure pa­tients to aban­don the drugs.

Project leader Wayne Til­ley, of the Univer­sity of Ade­laide, said the new re­search would fo­cus on ma­nip­u­lat­ing hor­mone re­cep­tors to act nor­mally.

The re­think stems from his team’s dis­cov­ery in 2015 that ac­ti­va­tion of re­cep­tors for the hor­mone pro­ges­terone could “re­pro­gram” the oe­stro­gen re­cep­tor and po­ten­tially shut down the growth of tu­mour cells.

Prostate cancer sur­vivor Rob Bishop said suf­fer­ers of both dis­eases could learn from each other.

“Most guys ap­proach prostate cancer to­tally dif­fer­ently to how women ap­proach breast cancer,” he said. “Women are more in­formed, look af­ter them­selves and have good sup­port net­works.’’

Ann Mayor cred­ited re­search for her sur­vival af­ter breast cancer 16 years ago. “Re­search is the most im­por­tant thing,’’ she said.

DAVID GERAGHTY

Cancer sur­vivors Rob Bishop and Ann Mayor

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