Feature: Movember raises awareness of prostate cancer but where does the money go?

21 November 2011

With Movember in full swing and moustaches growing left, right and centre, the awareness of prostate cancer treatment is burgeoning. The extension of research into the disease, which affects around 34,000 men in the UK each year, is growing with scientists increasingly finding new and important developments towards an improved treatment.

As part of the Movember initiative - a cross between the month of November and Moustache - men across the UK join forces to grow facial hair and raise money for doing so. The aim is to raise vital funds and awareness for men's health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men.

In 2010, the campaign raised £48.5 million worldwide, which was spent on funding research and the care of men affected by the disease.

Recent research from scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York found an "Achilles heel" in a lethal form of prostate cancer.

Published in Cancer Discovery, the researchers reported that this weakness could be a lead to develop treatment using a targeted drug that has already been used in clinical trials to treat other types of cancers.

The investigational drug reportedly had a dramatic response in animal models of neuroendocrine prostate cancer and therefore could provide the first hope of an effective human therapy for this lethal cancer.

Many of the men who are diagnosed with the disease, which usually affects those over 50 years old, are most commonly treated for adenocarcinoma prostate cancers, but these can mutate into the less common neuroendocrine type, which affects two per cent of all cases.

"There is evidence to suggest that androgen suppression results in a more aggressive cancer in a growing number of men and now, with this study, we may have a way to treat these patients," said study leader Dr Himisha Beltran, assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Weill scientists undertook the study to try and look into better solutions for the treatment of the illness, which is considered an "orphan disease" among other types of cancer.

Mark Rubin, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the college, commented: "This is a highly lethal form of prostate cancer. It is also rare enough that it's hard to get samples. This study is the largest of its kind and it shows that we may be able to treat this highly aggressive disease."

The scientists used next-generation RNA sequencing to profile samples of seven neuroendocrine prostate cancers, 30 prostate adenocarcinomas and five benign samples of prostate tissue.

They found that the genes AURKA and MYCN were overexpressed in 40 per cent of neuroendocrine prostate cancers and in five per cent of prostate adenocarcinomas.

According to healthcare research age, ethnicity and family history can all have an impact on the causes of the cancer. It is also thought that a diet high in animal fat and low in fresh fruit and vegetables could be contributing factors to the disease.

In a further finding on the cause of prostate cancer, researchers found a possible link between the disease and the female contraceptive pill.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the United Nations World Contraceptive Use published a report in the BMJ Open journal intended to explore the possibility that release of endocrine-disruptive chemicals found in forms of the contraceptive pill could affect the male genitals. However, the Prostate Cancer Charity said that this thought process cannot only be linked to the pill and must be considered an avenue for further research.

Dr Kate Holmes, research manager at the charity, added that it would not be a surprise to find that of the 87 countries analysed in the study, those that have a higher rate of contraceptive use could have an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Fundamental research to further studies into prostate cancer has gained momentum in recent years. With vital findings and possible research areas being uncovered, the importance of campaigns such as Movember will continue to highlight the need for breakthrough discoveries and the possibility of treatments.

Posted by Jeanette Royston

Beltran, Himisha, et al., Molecular Characterization of Neuroendocrine Prostate Cancer and Identification of New Drug Targets", Cancer Discovery, November 2011

Margel, David, "Oral contraceptive use is associated with prostate cancer: an ecological study", BMJ Open, November 2011

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