Standard treatment for prostate cancer may encourage spread of disease

Oct 01, 2007

A popular prostate cancer treatment called androgen deprivation therapy may encourage prostate cancer cells to produce a protein that makes them more likely to spread throughout the body, a new study by Johns Hopkins researchers suggests.

Although the finding could eventually lead to changes in this standard treatment for a sometimes deadly disease, the Johns Hopkins researchers caution that their discovery is far too preliminary for prostate cancer patients or physicians to stop using it. The therapy is effective at slowing tumor growth, they emphasized.

David Berman, an assistant professor of pathology, urology and oncology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and his colleagues identified the unsuspected potential problem with treatments that suppress testosterone after discovering that the gene that codes for the protein, called nestin, was active in lab-grown human prostate cancer cells.

Curious about whether prostate cancer cells in people also produce nestin, the researchers looked for it in cells taken from men who had surgery to remove locally confined cancers of their prostates and found none. But when they looked for nestin in prostate cancer cells isolated from patients who had died of metastatic prostate cancer - in which cancer cells spread out from the prostate tumor - they found substantial evidence that the nestin gene was active.

What was different, Berman speculated, is that androgen deprivation therapy, a treatment that reduces testosterone in the body, is generally given only when prostate cancers become aggressive and likely to metastasize.

Because prostate cancer growth is typically stimulated by testosterone, the treatment is thought to slow tumor growth and weaken the disease. Patients who eventually die because their disease metastasizes are almost certain to have received this type of therapy, he says.

Speculating that depriving cells of androgens might also, however, affect nestin expression, the researchers experimented on a prostate cancer cell line that depends on androgens to grow. When they removed androgens from the chemical mixture that the cells live in, their production of nestin increased.

Aware that the nestin gene has long been suggested to play some role in cell growth and development, Berman and his colleagues used a bit of laboratory sabotage called RNA interference to decrease the genetic expression of nestin and found that these cells weren’t able to move around and through other cells nearly as well as cells with normal nestin levels.

Prostate cancer cells with hampered nestin expression were also less likely than normal prostate cancer cells to migrate to other parts of the body when transplanted into mice. However, while nestin expression seemed pivotal for metastasis in these experiments, it didn’t seem to make a difference in tumor growth.

“What all this suggests is that nestin levels increased when prostate cancer cells are deprived of androgens and may encourage the cells to metastasize,” says Berman.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Explore further: New survey shows 36-percent increase in pediatric patients treated with proton therapy

Related Stories

Lightbulb using graphene is to go on sale this year

Mar 30, 2015

The BBC reported on Saturday that a graphene bulb is set for shops, to go on sale this year. UK developers said their graphene bulb will be the first commercially viable consumer product using the super- ...

New target for anticancer drugs—RNA

Apr 06, 2015

Most of today's anticancer drugs target the DNA or proteins in tumor cells, but a new discovery by University of California, Berkeley, scientists unveils a whole new set of potential targets: the RNA intermediaries ...

Recommended for you

Vortex device makes for better cancer treatments

May 22, 2015

A South Australian invention, responsible for unboiling an egg, has been used to produce a four-fold increase in efficacy of carboplatin, a commonly used drug for ovarian, lung and other cancer. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.