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Gene May Hold Key to Why Anti-Androgen Treatments Aren’t Always Effective

Men who are diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer are likely to find hormone therapy a part of their recommended course of action. After all, prostate cancer cells are often fueled by androgen. Drugs that block this hormone can essentially help starve cancer cells and slow the disease’s progression in the process. Although not a cure, anti-androgen therapy has been deemed highly useful for helping some men enjoy a higher quality of life longer. The treatment, however, is not effective in all men. A certain percentage, in fact, may find that anti-androgen treatment makes their cancer worse instead of better.

A recent study dove into the topic of anti-androgen therapy and why it so readily helps some men while creating a worsened situation for others. To better understand the mechanism behind the difference, mice were developed to display a lack of two tumor-suppressor genes. The two genes have been discovered to be mutated in about 25 percent of men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.

After the mice were developed, they were treated with anti-androgen therapy. Researchers found the treatment in mice also led to accelerated tumor growth, much like it does for a small percentage of human patients. This led to the discovery that a particular gene, SOX11, appeared to be reprogramming cells so that they lacked androgen receptors. Essentially, SOX11 was found to create a situation in which anti-androgen therapy enriches tumors rather than starve them.

While more research is needed, the clinicians behind the study report that SOX11 testing could prove important for screening advanced prostate cancer patients before anti-androgen therapy begins. If this gene is detected, standard hormone therapy that works so well for many may have highly undesirable results. How soon the findings might be put into practice on a widespread scale remains unclear.

Men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer at any stage are urged to talk to their doctors about all treatment options. The best recommendations will depend on particulars unique to each man’s case.