Success in prostate cancer research

Each year in Ireland about 2,700 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and there are about 500 deaths from the disease1. The Irish Cancer Society is committed to improving the lives of men affected by prostate cancer in Ireland by finding better ways to diagnose and treat this disease. Find out about our success in prostate cancer research so far.

1: © National Cancer Registry Ireland 2011 (May 2010) Cancer Trends. No. 3. Recent trends in prostate cancer

A number of years ago, the Irish Cancer Society recognised the growing problem of prostate cancer incidence in Ireland. Prostate cancer is a complex disease and we realised the need to gain a much better understanding of how prostate cancers grow and develop in order to reduce the burden of this disease among Irish men. We decided to tackle prostate cancer in Ireland by making a significant investment in prostate cancer research. This led to a group of dedicated researchers coming together to find better ways to diagnose and treat prostate cancer. This group established the first ever collaboration of prostate cancer researchers in Ireland, and the group has made important discoveries which have been published in over 30 international scientific papers so far. In partnership with Movember, we are committed to making many more discoveries in prostate cancer through continued support for research.

Why do we need research on prostate cancer?

There are many unanswered questions in prostate cancer, which can only be unravelled through research. For example, the PSA blood test is used in the diagnosis of prostate cancer, however, this test is not perfect because it also picks up benign conditions, and so better tests are needed. 

Also, not all prostate cancers are the same. For example, some grow very slowly and others grow very fast. Some cancers respond well to treatment when others do not, and we do not always understand why. 

We need research to find better tests to diagnose prostate cancer. Also, research will help us to understand more about this disease, and so to find the best treatments for each prostate cancer patient.

About the Research Group

The group of prostate cancer researchers, known as the Prostate Cancer Research Consortium (PCRC) is a group of doctors, scientists and research nurses all working together to find better ways to diagnose and treat prostate cancer. 

This group of researchers started working together in 2004 when they were given funding by the Irish Cancer Society. The focus of the research has been, and continues to be, solving real problems that are faced by prostate cancer patients and their doctors. The researchers currently work across four hospitals and four universities in Dublin, and collaborate with other researchers in Galway, Cork, Belfast and other international locations. 

They use cutting-edge technologies in the laboratories to learn more about how the disease starts and develops so that new treatments can be discovered. They are also looking for new markers of prostate cancer. Markers are substances found in the blood and prostate tissue that can be used to detect if the patient has cancer

The Prostate Cancer Biobank

One key factor in the success of this research group has been the establishment of a biobank. Researchers need to examine real cases of prostate cancer in order to fully understand how these cancers start off and grow. This is why collecting patient samples in what is called a biobank is an important part of this research. The PCRC has set up a biobank where blood, urine and tissue are collected from men who are having surgery to treat their cancer. The biobank is not just a collection of patient samples but it also contains clinical information (such as the type or grade of disease and the patient’s outcome after surgery). This is the first biobank in Ireland that is approved and licenced by the Data Protection Commissioners and has the highest standards of patient confidentiality. 

There is a very high level of willingness among Irish men to take part in this type of research. A survey in 2009 found that almost 85% of men agreed or strongly agreed with donating tissue for research2

2: Fitzpatrick, PE, McKenzie, KD, Beasley, A, Sheehan, JD; Patients attending tertiary referral urology clinics: willingness to participate in tissue banking. Br J Urol Int 2009;104: 209-213.

Research Success

  • So far, over 550 patients have given tissue and blood samples to the biobank.
  • The research team have made important discoveries which have been published in over 30 international papers, read by researchers all over the world.
  • New markers have been found which could help diagnose prostate cancer earlier and also help the doctor and patient decide on the best treatment to use. These are now being tested in larger groups of patients in Europe and Australia.
  • Different ways to improve responses to radiation and chemotherapy have been found.
  • New drug compounds that kill cancer cells but not normal cells have been identified.
  • The research group has been involved in the training of over 30 young dedicated prostate cancer researchers and doctors.

What next for this research?

This research group were successful in receiving further funds from the Irish Cancer Society, in partnership with Movember, to continue this important research over the next three years.

Why is research so effective?

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