A prostate cancer pill that could halve the risk of death is being considered by the NHS.
Results from a six-year trial have shown the use of an existing drug at an earlier stage and, when combined with another drug, could help many of the 52,000 men diagnosed each year in the UK with the disease.
Abiraterone, a hormone therapy drug, is currently used for patients with advanced prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
It works by stopping the production of testosterone, which helps keep the disease under control.
However, trials showed that it could be effective if added to the standard treatment for locally advanced prostate cancer which looks likely to spread.
NHS England is now considering using the drug on patients after researchers found combining it with prednisolone could significantly reduce prostate cancer deaths and improve outcomes for thousands of people every year.
More than 52,000 people are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in the UK. About 22,000 patients are considered at high risk of their cancer spreading.
In numbers: Prostate cancer in the UK
The six-year study, known as the Stampede trial, was led by a team at University College London (UCL) and The Institute of Cancer Research, London.
The study, published in The Lancet, said that using abiraterone to treat earlier-stage prostate cancer could extend lives and prevent cancer spreading.
A total of 1,974 patients took part in the trial, including 988 who were given the current standard treatment and 986 who had the standard treatment combined with abiraterone.
About half of those in the abiraterone group were also given another hormone therapy called enzalutamide.
Researchers found that adding abiraterone alone, or using it with enzalutamide, to standard prostate cancer treatment improved survival and decreased the chance of the cancer spreading.
Seven per cent of men who received abiraterone died from prostate cancer during the trial, compared with 15 per cent of those who had been given the standard care.
The abiraterone group included 527 men who also received enzalutamide. The study found that using this combination did not further improve outcomes beyond those who were given abiraterone on its own.
An increase in side effects was also found in the group given enzalutamide.
‘Innovative’ research praised
The next step is for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to consider the findings from the research, according to the study’s co-leader.
Prof Nick James of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Currently, abiraterone is only given to patients with very advanced prostate cancer. Our latest findings are the first to show the drug can also benefit men whose cancer is at an earlier stage – improving survival and reducing the chance of progression.”
Prof Gert Attard, the study’s co-leader based at the UCL Cancer Institute, said: “With careful patient selection, two years of abiraterone added to standard treatment can significantly reduce the burden on patients and the NHS from disease relapse that currently causes so much suffering.”
Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s great to see that yet more people with prostate cancer could soon benefit from this innovative research.”