Cancer efforts unite to conquer
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.
Cancer survivors Rob Bishop and Ann Mayor