Prostate cancer is the most common cancer to affect Canadian men: 1 in 8 will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime.

An all-too-common diagnosis

Over 20 percent of all newly diagnosed cancer among Canadian men is prostate cancer. In 2016 alone, it’s estimated that approximately 21,600 men in Canada were diagnosed with the disease and over 4,000 died from it.

“With prostate cancer, the numbers are about the same as with breast cancer in women, and the age distribution of those two groups is basically identical,” says Rocco Rossi, the President and CEO of Prostate Cancer Canada. “The principal difference is that women are generally more open about their health than we are.  They’re prepared to talk about it, whereas men are less likely to address it and also less likely to go to the doctor, which leads to a lot of unnecessary deaths and suffering when the cancer spreads.”

Prostate cancer often grows quite slowly, and some men who develop the disease live many years without showing symptoms, making regular screening essential. If left undetected, prostate cancer can become invasive — spreading from the prostate to other parts of the body.

New therapies show promising development

In order to grow and spread, prostate cancer cells need androgens — specifically, male hormones such as testosterone. In men with more advanced stages of the disease, the cancer will continue to develop, eventually invading other tissues, even when treatment has lowered the level of androgens in the body. This is known as metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC).

Until recently, the only treatment option for mCRPC was chemotherapy, but patients were often too sick to receive the treatment by the time the cancer was discovered. However, thanks to recent advancements in prostate cancer care, particularly a new class of targeted oral therapies, this is no longer the case.

“These new treatments not only prolong life but also improve quality of life and can reduce a patient’s pain level,” says Dr. Robert Hamilton, Staff Urologic Oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. “They prove successful when administered either before or after chemotherapy, and possess the added benefit of relatively minimal toxicity, as they’re administered orally as opposed to intravenously.”

These innovative drugs have opened up a space for similar discoveries to be made. “These new targeted therapies have really flipped the prostate cancer treatment field on its head and started a groundswell of innovation in the mCRPC space,” says Dr. Hamilton.

Providing hope for the future

Bogdan Bozovic has experienced the benefits of treatment innovation for mCRPC first-hand. He was 64 years old when, in 2014, a series of tests and a biopsy revealed that he had prostate cancer. After further testing discovered that the cancer had spread beyond the prostate, Bozovic was referred to Dr. Hamilton, who, recognizing the disease as mCRPC, started treatment immediately.

“It was a very emotional time for our family,” recalls Bozovic’s daughter, Jasna. “But as soon as we sat down with Dr. Hamilton and he explained the disease and treatment options, we became calm and ready as a family to face my father’s serious illness.”

After initial hormonal therapy followed by six months of chemotherapy brought the cancer under control, Bozovic was placed on a combination of monthly injections and daily oral therapies that has been extremely effective in not only prolonging his life but also maintaining his quality of life, particularly as the oral therapy does not require hospital visits.

“My father has been able to continue enjoying his normal lifestyle,” says Jasna. “He has always been physically active and has been able to maintain this activity throughout the treatment process.”

Bozovic is still enjoying his retirement and his family, over three years after his initial diagnosis. Most importantly, he and his family have hope that he will continue to live a normal life for years to come.

“The treatments administered by Dr. Hamilton have worked so well that we have great hope for the future,” says Jasna. “And for us, hope has always been the most important thing.”

Rossi has witnessed the benefits of these new therapies and agrees they have provided tremendous value to men and their families. “They have given hope where there was no hope before,” he says.