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New Prostate Cancer Treatment Could Include Starvation


In the future, physicians may treat prostate cancer with starvation. No, the men will not be asked to starve, but their tumor cells will if new research showing that depriving prostate tumor cells of a critical nutrient, results in development of drugs that slow progression of the disease through starvation.

A new type of prostate cancer treatment is needed

Currently, treatments for prostate cancer include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, cryosurgery, and prostatectomy (removal of the prostate), all of which are associated with significant, often life-altering side effects. Given that nearly a quarter of a million men in the United States alone are estimated to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011, and that many men with the disease seek active therapy, a new type of treatment is needed.

At the Centenary Institute in Sydney, Australia, researchers discovered that prostate cancer cells have an excessive number of pumps, through which special proteins send in the amino acid leucine, which the cells need to grow. This discovery prompted the scientists to wonder what would happen if they tried to shut down those pumps.

Using human prostate cancer cells, Dr. Jeff Holst and his team “found that we could disrupt the uptake of leucine firstly by reducing the expression amount of the protein pumps, and secondly by introducing a drug that competes with leucine. Both approaches slowed cancer growth, in essence ‘starving’ the cancer cells,” according to Holst.

There’s more good news: in some of their experiments, the scientists also found they could slow tumor growth in both early and late prostate cancer as much as 50%. First author Dr. Qian Wang noted that “if animal trials are successful over the next few years then clinical trials could start in as little as five years.”

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However, men with prostate cancer don’t have to wait five years to take action now. Holst pointed out that their discovery provides a better understanding of the association between prostate cancer and eating foods high in leucine, such as red meat (beef), processed meats (e.g., salami), fish, and soybeans.

Numerous studies have noted a relationship between consumption of red meat, including processed meats, and dairy products and a greater risk of prostate cancer. A recent study in Nutrition and Cancer, for example, reported on an increased risk of advanced prostate cancer in men who consumed processed meat, grilled red meat, hamburgers, and well-done red meat.

Holst explained that “Diets high in red meat and dairy are correlated with prostate cancer but still no one really understands why.” This new discovery concerning the pumps in prostate cancer cells has prompted the scientists to determine “whether these pumps can explain the links between diet and prostate cancer.”

The new research from Centenary Institute suggests that starvation of prostate cancer tumor cells may be a new approach to cancer treatment. Until that day comes, men may want to heed the suggested nutritional spin-off information from this study and avoid or limit their consumption of red and processed meats.

Centenary Institute news release
John EM et al. Meat consumption, cooking practices, meat mutagens, and risk of prostate cancer. Nutrition and Cancer 2011 May; 63(4): 525-37
National Cancer Institute

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons