hile some varieties of prostate cancer can be treated with high success rates surgically, with radiotherapy, or with the use of hormone therapy, some patients will see their disease develop into what is known as metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC), which, until recently, had a grim prognosis.

Levi Clain of New Brunswick was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of prostate cancer in 2011, at the age of 72. By the time the cancer was identified, it was already showing two areas of metastasis, and rapidly advanced to mCRPC. If his cancer had developed just a few years earlier, Levi’s outlook would have been dire. “In the past, mCRPC was treated primarily with chemotherapy, which was the only treatment that had shown a survival benefit for patients,” explains Dr. Urban Emmenegger of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, one of the doctors involved in Levi’s treatment. “Since 2010, we have had four new treatments become approved in Canada, all of which improve both survival and quality of life.”

Two of these new medications are very easy to take, administered at home by the patients themselves in the form of simple oral tablets, and they have shown themselves to be very safe and effective. “These new medications work in four out of five patients,” says Dr. Emmenegger. “They can have side effects, but these side effects are highly manageable.”

Not just surviving, but living

For patients, this means an opportunity to continue living and enjoying their lives while undergoing treatment, rather than spending much of their time in and out of hospitals and cancer centres. “If the treatment is working, these are medications that allow patients to continue with their lives,” says Dr. Emmenegger. “They can live just as they did before.”

For Levi, this is exactly what has happened. “In the last five and a half years, I have not really suffered any symptoms of the cancer itself,” says Clain. “The only symptoms I have had were from the treatment, and those have been very minor. My quality of life has been extremely good.”

With his cancer under control, Levi is enjoying life in New Brunswick and the good company he surrounds himself with. “I’ve been extremely fortunate because I have a very lovely lady who gives me tremendous support,” he says. “My morale has been very high because she’s been with me every step of the way since I was diagnosed.”

Levi has recently added to this loving circle with the adoption of a puppy. Thanks to the treatments that are keeping his cancer in check, Levi can look forward to watching his new friend grow old with him.

Research and innovation continue

It’s stories like this one that drive home just how important ongoing innovation in cancer treatment is. These new medications are remarkable, but given the speed at which research is progressing, even more advanced therapies may be just around the corner. “We have a lot of good tools now, but we would obviously like to have even better ones,” says Dr. Emmenegger. “There are some very interesting and promising clinical trials going on right now.”

For the 24,000 Canadian men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, this is very good news, and it is getting better every day. Stories like Levi’s will grow more and more common.