A recurrence of prostate cancer following removal of the prostate may not be the death sentence physicians once believed. Radiation could save the lives of many men with this condition, according to a study reported in the March 17, 2004, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Until now, physicians thought that certain ominous signs, including rising levels of a protein called prostate specific antigen (PSA), usually meant that the cancer not only had returned, but had spread to other parts of the body and was incurable.
The current study, which involved 501 men whose disease came back an average of 10 months after their prostate was removed, showed that many can be cured with radiation because the cancer has not metastasized. All of the men received radiation, known as salvage radiation, to treat the recurrence; 50% remained cancer-free for an average of 4 years.
Among participants with moderately aggressive initial prostate tumors, cancer cells at the edge of the surgically removed tissue, and a PSA level that doubled in <10 months, 77 men (64%) were cancer-free 4 years later.
The researchers believe that the study's outcome will provide important guidelines to help physicians better choose which patients will benefit from salvage radiation.