A new study at the University of York has shown that a standard hormone supplement, used to boost energy levels in prostate cancer patients following radiotherapy, could potentially increase the chances of the cancer returning.
Previous studies have shown that stem cells inside the cancer are resistant to radiotherapy treatment.
This means that the bulk of the cancer dies following treatment, but the ‘core’ does not, increasing the risk of the cancer returning.
Until now, however, it was not clear why stem cells, which are present in all cells of the body, should survive when the rest of the tumor is killed off by radiotherapy.
Using cancerous cells from patients diagnosed with prostate cancer, researchers showed that proteins called SMARCs, inside the stem cells, help to keep the ‘core’ of the cancer alive.
The research team were surprised to find, however, that cancer cells that had been treated in the laboratory with a glucocorticoid hormone became more resistant to cancer treatment.
Glucocorticoid hormone is normally administered to patients in tablet form to boost energy levels following radiotherapy. This has been a standard part of after-care for 15 years or more.
The researchers were surprised to find that the treatment was actually to the detriment of radiotherapy.
They now are trying to move into clinical trials to see whether blocking, rather than boosting, the glucocorticoid hormone in patients could increase the success rate of radiotherapy.
It would ultimately mean that the patient is more tired after treatment, but there are other non-hormone treatments that could be used to improve energy levels that would not interfere with recovery.