Mutation allows tumors to circumvent treatment
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in American men and the second leading cause of cancer death among men. It begins in the prostate, a walnut-sized gland that helps produce semen, and often causes no symptoms or only minor urinary problems. While most prostate cancers grow slowly and sometimes require little to no treatment, some cases are aggressive and can quickly spread.
Prostate cancer cells are stimulated by androgens, which are male hormones. When prostate cancer spreads, it is treated first with androgen deprivation therapy to reduce hormone levels. This process is sometimes called "medical castration." However, persistent tumors can circumvent this therapy by making their own androgens.
Nima Sharifi, MD, recruited in 2013 as a staff member in the Department of Cancer Biology and holder of the Kendrick Family Endowed Chair for Prostate Cancer Research, recently discovered a genetic mutation that enables tumors to produce their own androgens, thereby resisting medical castration. The work was published in the journal Cell. His team now will examine ways to block the actions of this mutation to slow or even stop the growth of tumors. These studies could lead to new hope for thousands of men who are diagnosed each year with the deadliest form of prostate cancer.