FRIDAY, Feb. 29, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Some men with advanced prostate cancer can safely take a break from chemotherapy, says a study by researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute.
The study included 250 men with metastatic, androgen-independent prostate cancer -- disease that spreads from the prostate and isn't affected by the male hormone androgen. The men were being treated with the intravenous chemotherapy drug docetaxel, the gold standard for this type of cancer.
However, the drug can cause side effects such as hair loss, nausea, loss of appetite and increased risk of infection. An interruption in the chemotherapy regimen offers patients a much-needed break from such side effects, but it wasn't known if temporarily halting chemotherapy would lead to treatment resistance, according to background information in the study.
Of the 250 men in the study, 18 percent of them received intermittent chemotherapy. The median durations of the first break from chemotherapy was 18 weeks. When they resumed chemotherapy, most of the men responded to treatment. Specifically, 45.5 percent of them responded with a greater than 50 percent reduction in prostate specific antigen (PSA) from their post-holiday baseline. Of those, just under half had stable PSA levels for at least 12 weeks, and 9.1 percent developed disease progression.
Levels of PSA, a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland, are often elevated when prostate cancer is present.
"We wanted to see if we could improve the quality of life for these patients by giving them time away from chemotherapy and possibly extend the time their cancer is controlled. Essentially, what we proved is that in selected subjects, chemotherapy holidays are feasible and provided meaningful breaks from treatment," principal investigator Dr. Tomasz Beer, director of the OHSU Cancer Institute Prostate Cancer Program, said in a prepared statement.
The study was published in a recent issue of Cancer.
Next, Beer and his colleagues want to study the use of immunotherapy to treat prostate cancer while patients are on a chemotherapy holiday.
"Because we know holidays are a good thing, we want to find ways to make them even longer," Beer said.
The American Cancer Society has more about prostate cancer.