Forty years ago, a man newly diagnosed with prostate cancer had only a 69 percent chance of living another five years; today, the five-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent.

The ongoing innovation in treatment options is perhaps most evident when it comes to managing late-stage prostate cancer that has become resistant to hormone therapy, as is the case with Robert’s cancer. Cancers at this stage are referred to as metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). Not long ago, there were no effective treatments for preventing them from becoming fatal. “Even 10 years ago we really had nothing,” says Dr. Sandeep Sehdev, Robert’s oncologist. “We would try to give other types of hormone therapies in the hopes of shutting down the male hormones a little bit better, but the effects were really marginal. Most patients would only have a year to a year and a half.”

New treatments changing the face of prostate cancer

Things are dramatically different today, with a range of new medications available that can shut down the male hormones that feed cancer cells, even in patients with mCRPC. “These drugs really offer tremendous hope where there was no hope before,” says Dr. Sehdev. Most importantly, not only are these treatments adding years to the lives of cancer patients, they often dramatically improve the quality of life experienced in those years.

"With every year that goes by, even more new options for managing prostate cancer are becoming available."

“By the time patients have mCRPC, they’re sick,” explains Dr. Sehdev. “They usually have significant pain; they may have blood in the urine; they’re losing weight; sometimes they can’t get out of bed. They’re quite sick.” In Robert’s case, he was extremely debilitated by his symptoms last year until he went on these new medications.

“My dad’s happy now,” says Robert’s son Paul. “It takes a load off of him to know that he’s receiving care.” Robert, in his 80s, is now once again able to enjoy his life, spend time with his family, and keep physically active. And, he can look forward to more years of the same. “Dr. Sehdev has always said that it’s more likely that he will die of old age rather than prostate cancer.”

Ongoing research promises further gains

With every year that goes by, even more new options for managing prostate cancer are becoming available. “There is still a lot of research going into new treatments,” says Dr. Sehdev. “We’re facing a tsunami of new cancer therapies. There are entire classes of therapies that didn’t exist a year or two ago.”

For Robert, and the 24,000 Canadian men diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, this means a brighter future very different from what a life with cancer looked like in decades past. “People should have a sense of hope and optimism,” says Dr. Sehdev. “We’re gradually turning this death sentence into a chronic disease we can work with and manage.”