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Dr. Bertrand Tombal On Making Prostate Cancer A Chronic Disease

Dr. Betrand Tombal, Chairman of the Division of Urology at the Cliniques universitaires Saint Luc and Professor of Urology at the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) in Brussels, Belgium, is the current President of the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), the leading European academic research organization in the field of cancer.

Dr. Tombal is keenly interested in treating advanced prostate cancer and in the development of hormonal treatment and new biological agents

Prostatepedia spoke with him about how newer agents like Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide), and Erleada (apalutamide) have changed the prostate cancer arena.

Join us to read the rest of this month’s conversations about Zytiga, Xtandi, and Erleada.

How have the newer agents, like Zytiga (abiraterone) and Xtandi (enzalutamide) changed the treatment landscape for men with castrater esistant prostate cancer?

Dr. Tombal: These drugs changed treatment in three ways. First, urologists know that hormone therapy may have a profound effect on some patients. Having said that, in the late 90s, we had hormone therapies of limited efficacy. For better or worse, there was no regulatory platform development for historical hormone therapy, so we are missing good evidence that they increased overall survival or even significantly delayed progression. These two new hormones build upon things we already knew for years, but they are far more effective, and more importantly, they have been developed following a strong regulatory context so that we know exactly their benefit.

But before that, the Taxotere (docetaxel) story was interesting for me because that’s one of the first studies I participated in. Seeing all these guys dying from prostate cancer, I thought it was unbelievable that we could increase overall survival. I was thus extremely surprised that urologists in charge of managing advanced prostate cancer at that time would negatively react to chemotherapy and claim that the benefit was limited and toxic. Hence, patients would be referred by the physicians. I thought that was strange. From day one, I thought that we should ask what the patients think. But the landscape changed again when we saw the results of the post-chemotherapy trials with Zytiga (abiraterone) and Xtandi (enzalutamide), how much they increased overall survival, and their major effect on PSA. We realized that we had game-changers.

But to me, changing the game was not necessarily about having patients live a little bit longer. I always go back to the many discussions I have had with patients who ask not whether they will live longer but if they will live better.

That’s why I was so excited about being one of the Principal Investigators on the Prevail trial. The Prevail trial was really not about Xtandi (enzalutamide); we already knew the drug worked. Prevail was about having a discussion early on in the course of the disease, when the patient was becoming metastatic and castrate-resistant. We would ask: what do you want to do? Do you want to wait a bit and only start chemotherapy after you’ve got symptoms? Or do you want to start the drug immediately?

The patient would then ask about the side effects. I would say that there are side effects, but to give it a try, and if they didn’t want to live with them, we could simply stop the drug and the side effects would go away. These are oral drugs, so if you have side effects that are severe, you can just stop the drug.

That’s what was new, that not only could we help the patient live longer, but we could delay complications of the disease and buy him quality time It has really changed the way we treat patients.

If you look at newer trials, like Prosper and Spartan, they are having the same discussion but going one step further.

You have no metastases, but your PSA is progressing rapidly. What do you want to do for the rest of your life? Do you want to do nothing, enjoy a few additional months until you develop metastases and then start the treatment? Or do you worry enough that you would like to try one of these drugs to see if you tolerate it? To me, it’s no more complicated than that. These drugs, Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide), and now Erleada (apalutamide), have brought the possibility of discussing early on in the course of the disease what is important for that particular patient. Do you want to delay progression? Because in the end, these drugs are not very toxic.

That’s why these drugs are so important.

And this is just the beginning. We’re not going to speak four years from now about giving Xtandi (enzalutamide) or

Zytiga (abiraterone) in the metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer space because we’re going to give these drugs earlier and earlier to patients with high-risk disease together with radiotherapy and surgery. We have a chance. What we want is to have prostate cancer patients die from something else.

A few years ago, Andrew C. von Eschenbach, a urologist that became the twelfth Director of NCI, said that his grail was to make cancer a chronic disease. That’s what we’re doing with these newer drugs: we’re making prostate cancer a chronic disease. We have never said we were going to make someone immortal, but hopefully we still delay the appearance of metastases and symptoms, so that they will die from something else. That’s the beauty of trials like Spartan, Prosper, and (hopefully) Aramis in which Xtandi (enzalutamide), Erleada (apalutamide), or darolutamide are given at early signs of rapid PSA progression to delay the metastases. We used to say that at that stage of the disease, everybody will die from prostate cancer, but now we’re delaying progression so much that patients are going to start dying from something else and not have to go through all of the suffering associated with prostate cancer. That’s a major change. That’s the change these drugs are bringing. They bring the possibility of intervening early and making prostate cancer a chronic disease. And yes, there is a slight increase in toxicity. And yes, at a huge increase in cost. But that’s how the world is.

Do you think it’s of any concern that we don’t really understand the longterm impact of these drugs?

Dr. Tombal: When people discuss this aspect, they assume that we have effective treatments to treat the progression. That’s not true. It’s the same with bone-targeted therapy. I remember when bone-targeted therapy came on the scene, a famous medical oncologist said that what we are delaying is simply giving a little bit of cheap radiotherapy to the spinal column (on the lumbar spine). I said that was true, but you assume that cheap radiotherapy to the spinal column is effective. And it is not.

When are bone-targeted therapies like bisphosphonates and Xgeva (denosumab) traditionally used, and how has their use changed now that these newer drugs have come onto the scene?

Dr. Tombal: Less frequently. And that’s a major drama. Once again, it comes from a wrong interpretation of the data, from that oncological view that overall survival drives all decisions. When the major study on zoledronic acid and Denosumab was published, people said it doesn’t make patients live longer or increase overall survival. I said that I didn’t care: increased survival is not what we expect from this drug.

What we expect from this drug is that it delays skeletal complications. It reduces the total number of bone complications in a patient’s lifetime. This means that, if you’re a gentleman of 70 years, and God has written in your book that you’re going to live another two years, you’ll get your first skeletal event in 12 months. Xgeva (denosumab) will not make you live longer, but it will delay your first skeletal complication to 16 months. Once again, you’re buying quality time. You define that quality time as time without bone complications.

Then came Taxotere (docetaxel), Xtandi (enzalutamide), and Zytiga (abiraterone). They all extend overall survival and skeletal events. Physicians are starting to not prescribe these drugs because they say we don’t need them now that we have Zytiga (abiraterone) and Xtandi (enzalutamide).

Recently, Bayer conducted a clinical trial comparing Xofigo (radium-223) plus Zytiga (abiraterone) versus Zytiga (abiraterone) alone. The trial ended after a little more than one year because there was a significant excess of fractures and death. One of the striking observations is that only one-third of the patients in the trial received bone-protecting. The European Medicines Agency’s statement says that, most likely, this excess of fracture happens only in patients not receiving bone-targeted therapy. Clearly, avoiding bone-targeted therapy has been a big mistake. We believe that if we have drugs that increase overall survival, we don’t need bone-targeted agents. But now we realize that if patients live longer with bone metastases, we increase the likelihood that they’re going to have complications. These drugs are even more important than they were before.

Would you say that most men on drugs like Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enazlutamide), or Erleada (apalutamide) should consider bone protecting therapy?

Dr. Tombal: If they have bone metastases, I would say yes. The question then becomes what to do if you only have one bone met. In Europe, we use a lot of modern imaging technologies, such as PSMA and whole-body MRI. Sometimes, you see a man with a rising PSA and one or two bone mets that you don’t see in a bone scan. If that man has two, three, or four bone metastases that show signs of progression, such as increased alkaline phosphate, he should be on bone-protecting agents.

What sort of combinations do you think seem the most promising or have the most benefit?

Dr. Tombal: At this point in time, we have failed to show that any combination is better than a single agent for prostate cancer. When I’m speaking about combinations, I’m speaking about combining drugs to increase overall survival.

When Taxotere (docetaxel) came out, there was an epidemic of shotgun experiments where everybody tried to combine Taxotere (docetaxel) with all sort of agents, all usually having shown a strong rationale in the lab. Not one of those trials was positive. Most of them showed a benefit in favor of Taxotere (docetaxel) alone. When Bayer said we’re going to combine Zytiga (abiraterone) with Xofigo (radium-223), that seemed like low-hanging fruit. They were combining two drugs with different modes of action and different toxicities that both showed an increase in overall survival when used alone. Nobody could have imagined that it would end in catastrophe—that combining the two agents would shorten survival.

At this point in time, there is not a single indication that one combination is better than a single agent in prostate cancer.

What should patients take away from that?

Dr. Tombal: These agents: Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide), Erleada (apalutamide), Taxotere (docetaxel), Jevtana (cabazitaxel), and in the United States, Provenge (sipuleucel-T), have been used sequentially, but not in combination. Combinations don’t have any benefit.

Do you think that is because there is some synergistic effect in terms of side effects?

Dr. Tombal: I have absolutely no idea. That’s where we stand today.

Do you have any thoughts for men who’ve been prescribed Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide), or Erleada (apalutamide)?

Dr. Tombal: I would say that one of the great messages of the Prosper and Spartan trials is that we probably do too much imaging, that it’s probably better to follow a patient just with PSA. Then when his PSA starts to increase rapidly, that is probably the time to talk about earlier treatment with one of these agents. That is when to have the overall discussion about what you want to do and where you want to go.

Why shouldn’t we use imaging as much?

Dr. Tombal: Because we are tempted to offer additional treatments, such as radiotherapy, which have limited value, when we have at least five or six large Phase III trials that establish the philosophy of starting Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide), and Erleada (apalutamide) earlier.

In Europe, we do a lot of imaging and a lot of salvage treatment. But we have to be honest, it’s driven by belief more than data.

Europe is ahead of the United States in that regard.

Dr. Tombal: Being ahead has started to make us realize that we probably over-treat more patients than we help.

That’s a huge issue because men can live for a long time with often debilitating side effects.

Dr. Tombal: Exactly.

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Dr. Mary-Ellen Taplin On Zytiga, Xtandi + Erleada

Dr. Mary-Ellen Taplin is the Director of Clinical Research at the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at Dana-Farber Institute. Prostatepedia spoke with her about the impact Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide), and Erleada (apalutamide) have had on how we treat prostate cancer patients.

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Why did you become a doctor?

Dr. Mary-Ellen Taplin: I was drawn to medicine because I really like the science behind cell biology and cell growth. I was attracted to oncology because I like being able to think about how to attack unbridled cell growth. Oncology is about understanding mechanisms of response and resistance. My goal is to give patients the highest level of care through application of basic discovery and not just go with the same status quo. For me, it was the intellectual pursuit of cell biology that then connected with oncology and oncology patients.

Have you had any particular patients over the years whose cases have changed either how you see your own role as a doctor or how you practice medicine?

Dr. Taplin: I treat all my patients as if they were family. I try to go to where they are, provide support, and be a healer. I give them the best go at the best quality of life and length of life that they can have.

Can you talk to us a bit about how Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide), and Erleada (apalutamide) have changed the treatment landscape for men with prostate cancer?

Dr. Taplin: First, in castrate-resistant cancer, these agents have provided patients with fairly well-tolerated oral therapies that work well in most people, at least for a significant period of time. It’s never long enough, but for a year or two, they work well.

Prior to these agents, all we had was ketoconazole, which works similarly to Zytiga (abiraterone) but is less targeted and has a lot of side effects. Ketoconazole wasn’t approved specifically for prostate cancer and wasn’t an optimal drug. We also had chemotherapy. Patients’ lifestyles are always more hindered by having to come in for IV chemotherapy every three weeks compared to taking oral medications.

These newer drugs not only provide effective therapy, but also provide therapy that is more conducive to keeping patients in their regular lifestyles.

Secondly, with newer data that has since evolved, these agents have also been found to improve outcomes for patients when used earlier, like in patients with non-metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer, in the case of Erleada (apalutamide), and for hormone-sensitive metastatic disease, in the case of Zytiga (abiraterone).

So, firstly: men with castrate resistant metastatic prostate cancer have more tolerable options, an improved life expectancy, reduced cancer related symptoms on many levels, reduced intensive pain, reduced need for narcotics, and reduced need for early chemotherapy. All things that go along with improving people’s quality of life while treating them.

And then secondly, moving these agents up earlier in disease progression has provided benefits to earlier stage patients. There are a lot of ongoing investigations looking at using these drugs earlier in conjunction with radiation and even prostatectomy. The field is not done with trying to optimize the timing and improving outcomes for patients with these particular clinical tools.

Which combinations are being explored, and which might be the most promising in the long run?

Dr. Taplin: To date, there are no combinations that have been proven effective in any sequential therapy in castrate-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), but combinations are important and should be evaluated. There is strong biologic rationale to combine Xtandi (enzalutamide) with a CPY-17 inhibitor (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide) and a PD-1 inhibitor, or Xtandi (enzalutamide) or Erleada (apalutamide) with a PI3 kinase pathway inhibitor.

These are important combinations to explore. But in prostate cancer, at least in the 28 years that I’ve been practicing, despite many trials, not one combination regimen has been approved in CRPC. It’s tough to build a combination therapy in prostate cancer for unclear reasons. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t explore them, but it means it’s unclear how effective combination therapy will be, at least in the short term.

There is a Phase III Alliance trial looking at Xtandi (enzalutamide) and Zytiga (abiraterone) together in patients with castrate-resistant prostate cancer. Dr. Mike Morris is the Principal Investigator. The biologic rationale is strong to explore more intense androgen receptor pathway inhibition with the combination of a second-generation AR antagonist with a ligand antagonist like Zytiga (abiraterone).

The preclinical rationale is promising, but to date, combination therapy in prostate cancer has been an unfulfilled dream.

What are the side effects like for each of these agents?

Dr. Taplin: There are differences, but they all cause some degree of fatigue, muscle wasting, and hypertension. With Zytiga (abiraterone) we have to watch for low potassium and elevated liver enzymes. We don’t see those things with Xtandi (enzalutamide) or Erleada (apalutamide). In a subset of patients, there is some cognitive clouding, some reduced concentration even to the point of confusion with Xtandi (enzalutamide), though rarely with Zytiga (abiraterone). Erleada (apalutamide) can rarely cause hypothyroidism, which is specific to that drug, so it needs to be monitored.

In general, patients need to have laboratory and blood pressure monitoring on a regular basis, every 2-8 weeks depending on the patient and the individual risks.

At present most patients are castrate resistant when they start on these drugs, so they’ve already had years of adjusting to medical castration. These patients have usually adjusted to the typical side effects that you see with medical castration when you start them on Lupron (leuprolide) or similar LHRH agonists/antagonists and have been more or less familiar with side effects such as hot flashes and weight gain for years.

A lot of patients talk about the high price of these medications. Do you have any thoughts about that?

Dr. Taplin: It’s a big problem. The copays are anywhere from $0 to $4,000 if you have coverage. Then there are the people who don’t have any coverage. This is the nature of Big Pharma in the United States and because the United States bears the burden of research and development of these products for the rest of the world. They’re expensive, and as a society, we have not prioritized dealing with the costs. Sometimes what we would consider even a small copay for a particular patient is too much for them. They’re faced with paying their phone bill or getting their medication.

It’s been well documented that, especially in the elderly, these expensive medications lead to people not taking their medication correctly, trying to stretch them out, skipping days or reducing doses, or not taking them all together. It’s a little different for cancer medication than, say, for blood pressure medicine. Cancer patients are more motivated to take the medication, but probably, they do not often take it correctly to try to make it last longer.

Family members sometimes share the burden. The patient can’t afford the drug, so family members try to patch together the funding. It can be a family problem as well as an individual problem.

I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s definitely true that, as we develop more oral therapies in prostate cancer, patients could be on very expensive sequential oral therapies for many years. For instance, a patient may go from bicalutamide to Zytiga (abiraterone) to Xtandi (enzalutamide) to Lynparza (olaparib). Three out of those four are expensive oral therapies. You’re not just talking about big copays for a year—because Zytiga is only going to work for a year—but sequential copays. These patients are probably going to be on these oral drugs for many years.

Does that ever factor into your choice of which agents to use in which patient?

Dr. Taplin: If we had more choice, it would. Most insurance companies require, at least in castrate-resistant prostate cancer, that you use Zytiga (abiraterone) first because, though still expensive, it is less expensive than enzalutamide. You don’t have a choice as a physician because the insurance companies decide what will be covered. Zytiga (abiraterone) is less expensive than Xtandi (enzalutamide) by almost 50 percent. I’ve stopped doing appeals to insurance companies for these drugs because insurance denials are rarely over turned.

Do you have any thoughts for men who’ve been prescribed any of these agents?

Dr. Taplin: Get guidance from the physician who is prescribing them so that you understand the common potential side effects. Take them as prescribed. If there is toxicity, discuss with your doctors the potential for a dose reduction. Even though there’s the FDA-recommended dose, often these medicines work well at lower doses. You might have less toxicity or feel better, say, on 750 mg instead of 1,000 mg of Zytiga (abiraterone) or 120 mg instead of 160 mg of Xtandi (enzalutamide). Don’t do that on your own, but it’s something that could be discussed with your doctor.

Another important message to get out to patients on these medications is the importance of keeping strong and of regular exercise. Find exercise and activities that you like. Get a trainer. Join a YMCA. Do the LIVESTRONG program. Commit to some sort of strengthening activity to keep your muscles. That will reduce side effects over time and be helpful. Of course, diet is important. A good heart-healthy diet is a good prostate cancer patient diet as well. Exercise and diet are often neglected by patients and physicians but are really important tools for patients on second generation hormone inhibiting drugs.

Diet and exercise can put patients in a better place so that they don’t have a fall or other toxicity problems. If you get a prescription for Xtandi (enzalutamide), you should also get a prescription to go to the gym four times a week. You need more than just a walk to the mailbox and back or to go grocery shopping. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete, but doing some type of strength training will help build muscle, or at least reduce the reduction in muscle tone that a lot of these men suffer from.

Join is to read the rest of our October conversations about Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide) and Erleada (apalutamide).


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Zytiga, Xtandi + Erleada

In October, Prostatepedia takes an in-depth look at a relatively new set of prostate cancer drugs—Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide) and Erleada (apalutamide).

Dr. Snuffy Myers frames this month’s conversations for us.

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The development and FDA approval of the new anti-androgens, Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide) and Erleada (apalutamide), represent a major advance in prostate cancer treatment. This issue provides you with experts’ current views on the use of these agents.

For hormone resistant metastatic prostate cancer, their use is now well established. They can provide an alternative to Taxotere (docetaxel) chemotherapy in patients who have failed initial hormonal therapy. While most patients will eventually experience cancer progression on these agents and need chemotherapy, the delay in initiating chemotherapy prolongs the period they have with better quality of life.

Recent trials have extended the use of these drugs to patients with nonmetastatic hormone resistant disease. These studies have shown that early use of these drugs results in a rather dramatic delay in the appearance of metastatic disease. As a result, early use of these agents is becoming widespread.

However, Dr. Mario Eisenberger does an excellent job of discussing unresolved issues with the early use of these drugs. I agree with him that we need to be concerned about long-term side effects of these drugs as many men are likely to be on them for more than five years. For example, Zytiga (abiraterone) results in a rapid drop in both testosterone and estradiol. As estradiol plays a major role in bone health, it is possible that long-term use of Zytiga (abiraterone) might increase the risk of fractures.

The current trend in clinical trial design is to test drugs in all patients who clinically fit the protocol. Thus, all men with hormone resistant metastatic disease would be tested with Zytiga (abiraterone) or Xtandi (enzalutamide). Dr. Eleni Efstathiou correctly points out that a portion of these patients’ cancers may already have molecular changes that make them likely to respond poorly to these drugs. She is investigating whether testing for these molecular changes will allow clinicians to select patients likely to have a significant and durable response to treatment. This approach makes sense.

As a practical matter, these new drugs are important enough that you, as a patient, want to make sure that the doctor managing your prostate cancer is knowledgeable and experienced in the use of these drugs.

Join us to read this month’s conversations about Zytiga (abiraterone), Xtandi (enzalutamide), and Erleada (apalutamide).


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The Genomic Revolution Comes To Prostate Cancer

Dr. Oliver Sartor, the Laborde Professor of Cancer Research in the Medicine and Urology Departments of the Tulane School of Medicine, is one of the leading researchers in advanced prostate cancer today. He is also the editor-in-chief of Clinical Genitourinary Cancer and the author of more than 300 scientific papers.

Dr. Sartor puts this month’s conversations about prostate cancer genomics into context for us.

“We can divide genomics into two different categories. The first category is germline genomics, which is the DNA with which you’re born. It’s clear that about 12% of people with advanced prostate cancer will have alterations in their inherited DNA, in particular in genes involved with DNA repair. Most common of these alterations are BRCA2. There are a variety of others that are somewhat prevalent, including ATM, CHEK2, and BRCA1. There are others that are more rare.

The implications of these germline mutations are significant for the patient: in certain configurations they may predispose a cancer to be sensitive to certain therapies, such as PARP inhibitors or platinum-based chemotherapy or (rarely) immunotherapy. There is more complexity, but knowing the germline mutation helps the informed clinician make decisions. In my practice, we test all patients with advanced prostate cancer for these germline mutations. (A National Comprehensive Cancer Network guideline suggests the same approach.)

These germline mutations represent the DNA with which you’re born. That DNA is going to have repercussions if also mutated in your family members. Men who have some of these DNA repair mutations have an increased risk of prostate cancer. In addition, there is a small increased risk of pancreatic cancer and male breast cancer for those with some of the germline mutations. Around 30% of men with BRCA2 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, but that cancer is more likely to be aggressive if diagnosed. With regards to females, it’s particularly important. Females with DNA repair defects are more likely to have breast and ovarian cancer. Female with DNA repair mutations, in particular BRCA1/

BRCA2, ought to consider having their breasts or ovaries removed at an appropriate time. Prophylactic surgery has been demonstrated to be potentially life-saving for those individuals. The risk of breast cancer may be as high as 70% and the risk of ovarian cancer may be as high as 40%.

Thus, for these germline mutations there are implications for treatment and implications for the patient’s family.

We should be doing prostate cancer screening earlier in men with these DNA repair defects for prostate cancer; we should be doing biopsies at a PSA of 3 or higher, and perhaps even lower, for younger men known to be at risk. Starting screening at age 45 has been suggested by some. In addition to germline genomics, we need to also talk about somatic genomics. Data indicates that about 60% of individuals who have a DNA repair germline mutation are likely to have another second genetic mutation occur within their tumor. In addition, many of the tumors can acquire an alteration in their tumor DNA even when the germline is normal.

Taken together, about 20 to 25% of men may have DNA repair mutations in their tumor’s DNA. That makes them particularly sensitive to certain therapies such as the PARP inhibitors, as I mentioned earlier, or platinum chemotherapy. When you have two DNA repair mutations in the same cell, the likelihood of response to these agents appears fairly high.

There are also other DNA defects of considerable interest, such as alterations of the mismatch repair genes MSH-2 and MSH-6. When these alterations do occur, there is a potentially increased probability of responding to immunotherapy such as the new PD-1 inhibitors.

Overall, the guiding light today in genetics in my practice is to look at both the germline DNA and the tumor DNA. I choose to look at the tumor DNA circulating free DNA (cfDNA) tests, in particular the Guardant Health assay. The ability of other assays to corroborate the Guardant Health findings is not yet clear. There is clear data to indicate that different assays give different results, but nevertheless, I think in the early exploratory phase we’re in now, it’s important to begin to test patients in order to better understand their genomics and hopefully guide us towards better therapies. This will happen part of the time but certainly not all of the time.

There is more to the story of prostate cancer genetics. We’ve looked at androgen receptor mutations that can have implications for a response to Androgen Receptor directed therapy, such as Xtandi (enzalutamide), Zytiga (abiraterone), and Erleada (apalutamide). We’re dissecting a number of permutations that occur. It’s a complex scenario, because very few men have only one mutation. Most have multiple mutations. And in most cases, these mutations are not targetable with current therapies. This is very important for people to know.

Everybody thinks if they get a genomics test that means they’ve got a treatment. It’s not the case. Many times we get the genomics results and find that there are no known treatments we can use for that man’s particular alteration. That said, there is a subset of men who will have informative genomics while many more people will have non-informative genomics.

There is a final issue I’d like to discuss. There is currently a bit of a debate amongst physicians over the utility of PARP inhibitors such as Lynparza (olaparib) as compared to platinum chemotherapy. But it is noteworthy that platinum-based chemotherapies are inexpensive compared to PARP inhibitors. This does not require a clinical trial. (Most men will access PARP inhibitors through a clinical trial, although sometimes insurance companies are willing to try.)

As it turns out, neither the platinum-based chemotherapies nor the PARP inhibitors will be effective forever, so we do need strategies to manage patients after PARP inhibitors or platinum-based chemotherapies fail. Currently, that space is unexplored. We have to gather much more data before we can make conclusions about those with underlying DNA repair defects who have failed platinum-based chemotherapy or PARP inhibitors.

This is an area of active and important investigation that represents a conundrum for many patients today. I’ve got a patient right now going through this. We’re debating what to do next. I’ve tried to be as honest as I can when I say, “I don’t know what to do, but we’ve got to try something.”

We are in the middle of a revolution, but the parts and pieces are not yet clear. For some, understanding tumor genetics at the current level is helpful. For others, it is perplexing and expensive.

Join us to read this month’s conversations about prostate cancer genomics.

(Already a member? You can read all conversations in your copy of April’s Prostatepedia.)


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Dr. Charles Ryan: Why Oncology?

Dr. Charles J. Ryan is the Clinical Program Leader for Genitourinary Medical Oncology at the University of California, San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

He primarily treats men with advanced prostate cancer. His research focuses on novel therapies for advanced prostate cancer.

Not a member? Join us to read Dr. Ryan’s conversation in our March issue on cancer recurrence.

Why did you become a doctor?

Dr. Ryan: I grew up in a medium-sized city called Appleton, Wisconsin. My father was the first medical oncologist and the first prescriber of chemotherapy in our town. He never did a fellowship because they didn’t exist when he finished his training.

I’m the youngest of four kids. By the time I was in junior high school, all of my siblings had gone away. My mother is a nurse, and she was working for hospice in our community. Sitting around the dinner table, it was just the three of us.

The dinner conversation was frequently about cancer, hospice, medicine, and things like that. That’s what shaped me at the time. I decided to become a physician in college, but I had given a lot of thought to oncology and medicine well before making the decision.

I guess medicine is the family business?

Dr. Ryan: Yes. It is sort of a family business. When I started my medical training, I felt a kinship with the medical oncologists I interacted with at the University of Wisconsin. I was randomly assigned to work in an oncology clinic and a prostate cancer clinic. I just felt like: these are my people. The timing was right for me to make a decision. It’s what I wanted to do with my life. I found the disease itself biologically compelling, and the emergence of new therapies and the community of physicians and researchers who worked on it were an interesting group of people. It was a natural decision.

Join us to read Dr. Ryan’s thoughts on Xtandi (enzalutamide) and Zytiga (abiraterone.)


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Prostate Cancer Recurrence

Dr. Alicia K. Morgans is a medical oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in treating advanced prostate cancer and is particularly interested in addressing treatment side effects.

She frames Prostatepedia’s March conversations about prostate cancer recurrence.

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One of the most common questions I’m asked as a doctor who treats prostate cancer is: what happens to me if my cancer comes back? This is always a difficult conversation, especially because people often ask it in the presence of their family members. A man’s wife or child is also really interested in knowing the answer to the question. The question is often driven by anxiety and fear in men who have already undergone what can be a life-altering treatment experience. They’re trying to look ahead and plan for their future. But there are many parts to any possible answer.

First: what do you go through to monitor before the cancer comes back? After treatment, we follow a man’s health, watch his PSA intermittently over time, and often do imaging studies.

If the cancer comes back, the first sign is often that a man’s PSA starts to rise. At this point, we typically use imaging studies to understand what the disease is doing. Even when the PSA is really low, our new imaging technologies can show us where the cancer is and help us determine how a man’s recurrence may be ultimately treated—whether that is with local or systemic treatment. Again, this is a really anxiety-laden situation. We’re fortunate to have these new exciting imaging technologies for patients and their clinicians, which Prostatepedia discusses at length in this edition.

We use these imaging technologies in men with biochemical or PSA-only recurrence to help us understand where the cancer is located. For some men, these new imaging techniques might show us that there is a cancer recurrence in the pelvis where radiation can be given to potentially cure them of recurrent prostate cancer. That is a huge win, progress for our patients, and of course, wonderful news for the men and their families.

For other men, it is possible that we will not necessarily find recurrence, even with new imaging techniques. In those cases, we often continue to wait and watch. Biochemical recurrence can be challenging psychologically because knowing that your PSA is rising can be stressful, and the data explaining the best approach to treatment is not complete.

For men who have a single area of prostate cancer that has come back, whether as a single bone lesion or a few locations, advances in therapy for oligometastatic disease have come fast and furious. In this issue, Dr. Piet Ost talks about oligometastatic prostate cancer and how we might use radiation or surgery to treat a small amount of recurrent prostate cancer. Several clinical trials are working hard to figure out if treating this low volume of prostate cancer in single areas will potentially cure men of recurrent cancer.

It’s really important that we have new treatments we can use for men with hormone-sensitive metastatic prostate cancer, too. Over the last few years, we’ve seen men with metastatic hormone-sensitive prostate cancer live well for many years with several options for treatment. New data describing chemo-hormonal therapy or androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) with Zytiga (abiraterone acetate) have been incorporated quickly into clinical practice and are being widely used to help men with metastatic hormone-sensitive prostate cancer live longer.

Unfortunately, sometimes a man’s prostate cancer comes back more broadly, as a rising PSA only, or with sites of metastatic disease. This can be challenging physically, because sometimes it’s coupled with fatigue or pain as well as emotional difficulty. The cancer that a man thought was gone has now come back. To address this, there are many scientists and physicians working to try to help men with prostate cancer live better by using therapeutic advances as well as psychosocial and pain support teams that can improve patient-reported as well as disease outcomes. By incorporating social work and psychiatrists, centers are able to support men and their families, helping patients cope with PSA anxiety, which is an issue that can be anxiety-provoking and potentially go on for years at a time.

In terms of therapies, we as a field are very excited about new data that offers new therapies to men with biochemical recurrence who develop castration resistance before they have radiographic evidence of metastatic disease. Two clinical trials presented last month in San Francisco at the annual ASCO Genitourinary Oncology Symposium suggest that using either Xtandi (enzalutamide) or Erleada (apalutamide)—both androgen receptor-directed therapies—can prolong metastasis-free survival for men with castration-resistant non-metastatic disease.

This is a valuable advancement because any day spent without metastasis is a day spent feeling stronger and with less pain. We are also excited because both of these oral drugs have relatively low toxicities. Both clinicians and patients win when we add a significant amount of metastases-free time with a few pills and minimal side effects.

As a clinician, I understand the anxiety that drives the question: what if my cancer comes back? But this is a time of incredible hope. Medical advances are helping men live longer and live better, even if their cancers do come back.

Join us to read this month’s conversations about prostate cancer recurrence.


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Small cell? Or neuroendocrine cancer?

AparicioDr. Ana Aparicio is an Associate Professor in the Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Prostatepedia spoke with her about rare but highly aggressive forms of prostate cancer.

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How did you become involved in such a specialized subset of prostate cancer research?

Dr. Aparicio: I was very frustrated by the fact that we treat homogeneously a disease that we perceive in the clinic to be heterogeneous. It drives me crazy that different people walk into the clinic with different diseases and yet we do the same thing to each and every one of them. This ends up meaning that many large Phase III trials are an enormous resource expense. It’s difficult to advance the field. I had remarkable responses for patients with Yervoy (ipilimumab) and yet the Phase III trial was negative. I felt like that was wrong. We should be smarter about what we’re doing. We need to understand the heterogeneity of prostate cancer and incorporate that understanding into clinical trials. Otherwise, it’s going to take us 200 years to make a difference in this disease.

I think of it in the following way. I take all of the prostate cancers and peel away the most aggressive ones. I then look to see how that relates to the rest of the disease. If we peel back in that way, we will start to understand the disease.

So then the work you’re doing can potentially change not only how we treat patients, but also how we design clinical trials?

Dr. Aparicio: Yes.

What is neuroendocrine prostate cancer?

Dr. Aparicio: Neuroendocrine prostate cancer is a histological definition of a prostate cancer variant. The prostate is composed of glandular tissue. When a pathologist looks at your garden-variety prostate cancer under the microscope, she sees it is composed of groups of glands. That is why it’s called adenocarcinoma: adeno meaning of or relating to the glands, carcinoma referring to the cancer arising from epithelial tissue. It’s cancer and not normal prostate tissue, but you can still recognize the glandular structures. Prostate adenocarcinomas respond very well to hormonal therapies.

On the other hand, small-cell prostate cancers basically look like sheets of cancer cells under the microscope. There is no glandular formation of any sort. These are small, round cells that have small amounts of cytoplasm (the gel-like material surrounding the nucleus) so their nuclei look very prominent. Small-cell cancers often express neuroendocrine markers, which are a type of protein expressed by a number of different tissue types and in a number of different cancers. Neuroendocrine markers are in no way specific to small-cell prostate cancers, but because the small-cell prostate cancers express them frequently, the other name that is given for small-cell prostate cancers is ‘poorly differentiated neuroendocrine prostate carcinoma.’ Many garden-variety prostate adenocarcinomas (those composed of groups of glands) also express these neuroendocrine markers. Again, the word neuroendocrine is not specific to small-cell cancers. Small cell refers to sheets of cells that are small with little amounts of cytoplasm.

The presence of small-cell cancer morphology on a surgical specimen or a biopsy is often associated with atypical clinical features for prostate cancer and a poor response to hormone therapies.

Garden-variety prostate adenocarcinomas most often spread to the bone and make round sclerotic (hardening) or osteoblastic bone metastases that show on a CT scan like a white patch.

In contrast, small-cell prostate carcinomas are often associated with what we call lytic (relating to disintegration) bone metastases, which show on a CT scan like a dark, punched-out hole. And that’s when the carcinomas go to the bone because they often don’t even show up in the bone. Men with small-cell cancer morphology can have exclusive visceral metastases, meaning their cancer has only gone to the liver, lymph nodes, or lung. They might also have bulky tumor masses, including bulky and symptomatic primary prostate tumors or bulky liver or lymph node masses. While they don’t respond well to hormonal therapies, small-cell prostate cancers often respond to chemotherapy.

A problem we ran into was that we would often find these atypical clinical features that I just described, but under the microscope where we expected to find small-cell prostate carcinoma morphology to justify chemotherapy, we didn’t. What happens when we see those atypical clinical features, but the biopsy doesn’t show small-cell morphology? Our experience shows that those people don’t do well with hormone therapies. In other words, when we do a biopsy and we find small-cell carcinoma morphology, we know that those cancers need to have chemotherapy sooner rather than later, as opposed to treatment with hormonal therapy. They need early chemotherapy as well; so we coined the term aggressive variant prostate cancers, which are tumors that share clinical features with small-cell cancers but may have different morphologies under the microscope. When we do a biopsy, they might look like adenocarcinoma, but they behave like small-cell cancer.

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