Immunotherapy: A new option for advanced prostate cancer

Published: September, 2010

A diagnosis of cancer is always frightening. Once the shock wears off, patients have to decide what to do next. And for most of the estimated 192,000 American men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, the decisions can be nearly as overwhelming as the diagnosis itself. Because scientific studies have not established which treatments are best, patients with early prostate cancer are asked to choose between deferred treatment (watchful waiting or active surveillance); surgery (conventional, laparoscopic, or robot-assisted); and radiation (external beam, proton beam, or brachytherapy with implanted radioactive seeds, with or without hormone therapy). To make matters even more confusing, some men also consider less established, experimental treatments, ranging from cryotherapy and high-frequency ultrasound to microwave or radiofrequency tumor ablation and lifestyle treatment using diet and supplements.

Most men respond well to these therapies, but some are confronted with recurrent prostate cancer, often years after the original treatment. These men face a simpler, if less attractive, situation since the next line of defense involves androgen-deprivation therapy. Although the timing and techniques of androgen deprivation also involve choices, the goal of all methods is to drastically reduce levels of testosterone, the male hormone that fuels the growth of prostate cancer.

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