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U-M looks at better treatments for prostate cancer

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A new study at the University of Michigan is looking at why hormone-based treatments stop working for some men with advanced prostate cancer.

About 50 percent of men with prostate cancer have what's called a gene fusion that may cause some treatments to stop working, says Dr.Maha Hussain, a U-M professor of medicine and urology who is a co-leader for the prostate cancer program.

"We found out that potentially the fusions, if they occur in a patient, may likely be more responsive to newer forms of hormone treatment."

Hussain says some patients who have prostate cancer will ultimately have disease that spread to bone or other organs.

"They get hormone treatment, which is essentially castration, that causes shrinkage of the cancer. It will cause some remission in the cancer for a finite period of time," she says. "In a good number of patients, their cancer will get used to this, it somehow becomes resistant, and the cancer returns."

Hussain says researchers found a specific genetic alteration called the ETS gene fusion, in which two genes join forces. "We think they are driver alterations, which means they are critical for the cancer to have formed and may be relevant for treatment.

"This may give us the opportunity to identify some features of this cancer where there may be potential drugs or a clinical trial that has a drug that one can direct the patient in that direction.

Hussain says the current clinical trial uses combination treatments. More than 40 men are already in the study; another 100 are needed.

About 300,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in the United States and 28,000 will die.