mCRPC is an aggressive form of prostate cancer in that it is no longer responsive to the traditional hormone therapies and has spread to other parts of the body, like the bone, lymph nodes, and other internal organs. Up until the early 2000’s, treatment had little effect in stemming the disease, limiting the average survival rate to 12-15 months, much of which saw a rapid deterioration in a patient’s health.

New therapies, new hope

While a cure remains elusive, newer treatments have helped men with mCRPC live longer, and their effectiveness has been cause for optimism in helping patients feel alive, rather than just surviving.

“The treatment has changed more dramatically in just the last three or four years for these patients. We’ve now learned that these new drugs will bring about control of the cancer, either before or after the institution of chemotherapy,” says Dr. Peter Venner, oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute in the Department of Oncology at the University of Alberta. “Clinical trials, on average, have shown they can add up to an additional 16 months of life for patients. We now have additional hormone therapy, and we’ve seen that it improves survival when it’s used before chemotherapy.”

Cause for optimism

Dr. Venner cites this as a significant step forward for men who may be of older age or have lost strength from their underlying illness. These hormone therapies can have a dramatic impact in cases where chemotherapy couldn’t be used in the past.

“The treatment has changed more dramatically in just the last three or four years for these patients.”

“We can honestly look patients and their families in the eye and tell them we have treatment for them, and that we’re optimistic about how it could help lengthen and dramatically improve their quality of life by the administration of chemotherapy and hormone therapy,” says Dr. Venner. “That’s really changed our approach and optimism in regards to the management of mCRPC. We’ll probably have another drug for earlier stage mCRPC this year, in addition to our current options.”

“An emotional high”

David McFee, 69, is one of those patients, who rode an “emotional high for three years, with no pain, no nausea, and no vomiting”. Having battled mCRPC for 14 years, he had previously undergone radiation treatment, including surgery to remove a significant tumour that was pressing on nerves in his back. 

Taking part in two clinical trials and one study, his struggle with the disease hit a breakthrough with treatment that helped him enjoy life in a way he hadn’t experienced since first being diagnosed.

“I resigned myself on concentrating on quality of life, but I’m very happy that I tried these treatments that worked for me far beyond my expectations. It makes you feel good when you see things go to that stage,” says McFee. “I volunteer for clinical trials, and am happy to be the first one in. The way I see it, I’m helping you later on, because if I don’t try it, how do we know how well it can work?”

Feeling better allowed him to drive his Ford Mustang around the countryside of central Alberta in the spring and summer, attend family events, and be more self-sufficient, which had the added effect of reducing stress for his wife and family. 

“My wife has stood behind me through thick and thin, whether I’m way down or way up, and I’m very fortunate to have that,” he says.