Around 50,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in the UK. Although survival rates are good, the treatment can be traumatic.
The cornerstone of advanced prostate cancer treatment is androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), a type of hormone treatment which effectively castrates patients, and can include removal of the testicles.
While effective at treating the cancer, this can have a debilitating effect on the patient’s quality of life. Previous research has shown that cancer survivors can suffer from fatigue, depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Here at Sheffield Hallam University, I lead a research team dedicated to making life better for people who have had cancer. Over the last few years, we’ve shown how targeted and appropriate lifestyle changes can make meaningful improvements to prostate cancer survivors’ quality of life.
Our research has been used to update international guidelines for treating prostate cancer — changing how doctors around the world manage the adverse effects of cancer treatment, and improving the lives of thousands of patients.
Trials that make a difference
So how did we get to that point? First, we designed clinical trials that were truly relevant. I’m a firm believer that scientific research has to make a difference to the world. I want to make things better.
This starts with choosing the right people to study. You have to work with people who are representative of the population at large, so you can extrapolate the results to improve treatment for everyone. Recruiting the right representation of patients for trials is very hard work, but it’s absolutely vital if you want your results to be usable in the real world.
Once we had found our patients, we were able to test how to improve their quality of life. We put men who had received ADT on a 12-week exercise programme, with dietary advice too. They attended one-to-one training and group sessions with an exercise physiologist.
After prostate cancer treatment, the lower levels of testosterone in the body can lead to a greater risk of heart disease. We used a new ultrasound technique to measure our patients’ cardiovascular health before and after the exercise programme.
We found that the patients who underwent the lifestyle intervention experienced clinically meaningful improvements in their cancer-specific quality of life, and reduced cancer-specific fatigue.
The improvements could also translate to 29% fewer cardiovascular-adverse events (including heart attacks) — a real and clinically meaningful impact. In focus groups at the end of the trial, these patients also told us they had less anxiety and fear of the disease recurring.