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Tailored treatment for prostate cancer could save men from devastating side-effects

Artificial intelligence could be used to tailor treatment for prostate cancer, and save men from devastating side-effects, new research suggests.

A study by the Institute of Cancer Research, London found that analyzing dozens of genetic variables could help doctors to adjust treatment doses for the most common form of cancer in men.

Each year 47,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Around two thirds will undergo radiotherapy, leaving one in five to suffer long-term side effects, which can include bowel, urinary and sexual dysfunction.

Currently, doctors are not able to assess a patient’s likely sensitivity.

While some men end up suffering side-effects, after receiving a higher dose than required, others are given too little, compromising the chances of successful treatment.

The new study, presented at the National Cancer Research Institute’s (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool, analysed detailed data – including medical history, genetics, radiotherapy dose, and reported side effects – from more than 700 men undergoing the treatment.

The study found that particular genetic characteristics could predict specific side-effects – specifically rectal bleeding.

In future, the approach could be used to create personalised treatment plans for prostate cancer patients, researchers said.

And the scientists said it might also be applied to many other types of cancer that are treated with radiotherapy.

Dr Navita Somaiah, co-lead researcher at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Advances in technology have enabled us to combine what we’ve learnt from decades of research into radiotherapy. For the first time, we can now look at the full complexity of a patient’s genetics, medical history and treatment, to predict if they are at risk of side effects.

 

“We hope that our method can be used to personalise radiotherapy for patients based on this risk, improving the chances of a cure and also minimising the side effects suffered.

“This has been a huge collaborative effort between clinicians, physicists, biologists, statisticians and data scientists.”

Dr Di Gilson, member of the NCRI’s Scientific Committee for the Conference, said: “Radiotherapy is a cornerstone of successful cancer treatment for thousands of patients. Unfortunately some patients who have radiotherapy will suffer long term side effects and for a minority these can be irreversible, progressive and debilitating.

“With more patients surviving their cancer than ever, it’s absolutely essential to find treatments that are both effective and minimise side effects, so that more patients can also enjoy a better quality of life.”

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK said:“There are over 330,000 men living with or after prostate cancer in the UK and many are left to deal with life changing side effects as a result of their treatment, such as bowel problems and erectile dysfunction.

Ben Stiller 
Hollywood actor Ben Stiller has spoken about his history of prostate cancer  CREDIT: PA

“Research like this has the potential to not only predict how well a patient will respond to treatment, but also – as in this case – how likely it is they will experience side effects. This could make a huge difference to men when it comes to choosing the most suitable treatment for their particular cancer.

 

“However, it’s early days and we look forward to seeing the results of this analysis validated in additional studies,” he said.

Meanwhile, almost two thirds of couples become less sexually active following a diagnosis with prostate cancer, a survey has found.

The study found 60 per cent of women said they wanted more support from medical staff after their partner was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Even more felt their intimate relationship had taken a strain, with 62 per cent saying they had become less sexually active since their partner’s diagnosis.

Charity Orchid – Fighting Male Cancer, commissioned the polling of 100 women, whose partners had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Women said they had been left worried, uncertain and feeling helpless, with a lack of support available.

The charity has joined Tackle Prostate Cancer in launching a new women’s guide to prostate cancer, funded by Bayer, as part of a campaign “Manversation” to encourage more discussion of prostate cancer.  

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