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Prostate cancer: Scientists reveal new way to target stubborn cells

A new compound that targets hard-to-treat prostate cancer cells may pave the way for a new, more successful treatment in the future, a new study reports.

The study, which is now published in Nature Communications, notes that this particular compound targets areas that lead to the multiplication of prostate cancer cells.

The researchers, at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine in New York City, created a compound called cyclic peptoids.

Cyclic peptoids specifically seek targets that current prostate cancer treatments cannot.

The scientists were able to develop a compound that reduced prostate cancer cell growth (in cultures) by 95 percent, when compared with untreated cells.

How the treatment differs from current drugs

Current prostate cancer treatments target hormonal signals that encourage the growth of prostate cancer. People who take these type of medications, known as anti-androgen drugs, often experience a recurrence of cancer growth within months.

This has led to more research in hopes of developing new treatments that can work with these “undruggable” targets.

That’s where Dr. Susan Logan, an associate professor in the Department of Urology from the NYU School of Medicine, and study co-author Prof. Kent Kirshenbaum, also from the NYU School of Medicine, come in.

“Rather than continue making compounds that are just like older drugs, the focus of our work has been to rethink the definition of what a drug-like molecule can be,” notes Dr. Logan.

Their report highlights how their compound blocked cancer growth by hampering the interaction between proteins that turn on the genes that make cells multiply.

This gene activity helps the prostate grow during a person’s early development, but it does not continue to trigger cell production later in adulthood — that is, unless there are changes that reactive them, which can lead to prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer the ‘second most common’

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), prostate cancer is now the second most common cancer (behind skin cancer) among men in the United States.

They say that 1 in 9 men will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lives. Prostate cancer is also the second leading cause of cancer-related death (behind lung cancer) among U.S. men.

There is good news, though: most men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. The ACS report that the 5-year relative survival rate is 99 percent among those with all stages of prostate cancer.

Of course, the survival rate tends to be higher when doctors locate the cancer in its earlier stages. How the cancer responds to treatment also impacts a person’s outlook.

Those who have prostate cancer in its earliest stages tend to have 5-year relative survival rates of nearly 100 percent, and 4 in 5 prostate cancers are diagnosed in these early stages.

Early-stage prostate cancer does not usually produce any symptoms. People with more advanced prostate cancer may have problems urinating, blood in the urine or semen, erectile dysfunction, pain in certain areas (hip, back, or chest), or weakness or numbness in the legs or feet.

It is important to note that other conditions can also cause most of these issues, so it is vital to see a doctor if concerned.

Hopes for the future

Despite the high treatment success rate, it is exciting that there could be even better treatments in the future.

Early detection is a crucial component of prostate cancer care, but there may be medications that can treat this type of cancer more thoroughly, which may help keep stubborn cancer cells from coming back.