New data shows prostate cancer treatment may improve outcomes for Black men
Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men across the U.S. In 2020 alone, more than 191,000 men will be newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 33,000 will die, said Jason Hafron, M.D., an advanced cancer specialist at the Michigan Institute of Urology and Director of Clinical Research and Director of Robotic Surgery at Beaumont Health. And, he added, the disease is much more likely to develop in Black men, who have the highest prostate cancer incidence rate of any racial or ethnic group in the world.
“The numbers are pretty shocking,” said Hafron.
However, there is plenty of hope, he said, thanks to significant research and new therapies developed in the last 10 years. One of those therapy options for men with advanced prostate cancer is immunotherapy.
“Immunotherapy is using patients’ own immune systems to fight the cancer,” said Hafron. “We’re seeing great responses in men with advanced prostate cancer, especially in African-American men.”
As a physician who specializes in advanced cases of prostate cancer, Hafron often uses immunotherapy with his patients. It has been a game-changer for treating later-stage cases, he said, both because of the results and the relative lack of long-term side effects compared to chemotherapy.
Recently published data on immunotherapy found a difference in the overall survival of Black men and white, non-Hispanic men with advanced prostate cancer. Patients included men treated at both academic and community settings in urology and oncology clinics, from 2011 to 2017. Researchers found that Black men saw a 50% reduction in the risk of death compared to Caucasians and lived 20 months longer (54.3 versus 33.4 months), explained Hafron.
“That is huge,” he said. “That’s really never been seen in any significant trial.”
Findings were based on an analysis of a registry, so it is different from a controlled study, explained Hafron. It uniquely offers “real-life data about what’s going on in the community across the country.” The study collected experiences and survival rates of men who actually received immunotherapy to treat their advanced prostate cancer.
Hafron’s practice has 22 offices in the Greater Detroit and Southeast Michigan area, and, as an advanced cancer specialist, he’s often consulted for second and third opinions. He’s shocked when patients — especially Black men — haven’t been told about immunotherapy.
“We are very focused and very passionate” about making sure that Black men know their options and know they can get treated with immunotherapy, he said. “Cancer care across the country should be uniform.” He said it’s quite rare to discover a significant difference in response to a treatment based on race.
“This is a therapy where not only do they respond, but they respond better,” said Hafron. “African-American men should not be neglected or denied the therapy that has proven to be so effective.”
This month is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, a time to spread the word about the disease’s prevalence, the importance of preventative screenings and potential treatment options.
Beyond awareness of treatment, Hafron urges all men to keep up with preventative health screenings for prostate cancer, even amid COVID-19. Clinics like his are taking every precaution possible and talking patients through any apprehension they might have about medical care.
“If we don’t continue to screen and treat these patients, the long-term outcomes will be worse,” he explained.
Delaying treatment is not necessary and can lead to more advanced cases at diagnosis. Prostate cancer is treatable, said Hafron. “We have so many new therapies where we can prolong a man’s life with few side effects.”
For more information about prostate cancer, visit Michigan Institute of Urology.