Brief, intense radiation and hormone therapy for very high-risk prostate cancer


As we’ve seen, brachy boost therapy seems to have the best oncological results for men with very high-risk prostate cancer. But brachy boost therapy entails 20-25 external beam radiation treatments plus the invasive placement of radioactive seeds or needles plus at least 18 months of testosterone suppression. While the oncological results are excellent, with about 80 percent cure rates, there is significant risk of serious late-term urinary retention. In some men, testosterone never fully recovers.

McBride et al. reported the early results of the AASUR trial. The goal of the trial was to find a treatment with equivalent oncological outcomes, but one that is easier on the patient, with less risk of long-term toxicity. They recruited 64 patients at four top institutions (Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, and Thomas Jefferson University). All patients were “very high risk,” defined as:

  • Any Gleason score (GS) 9 or 10, or
  • Four or more cores of GS 8, or
  • Two high-risk features (clinical stage T3/4, GS 8, or PSA > 20), and
  • No metastases (N0, M0)

Patients were treated with:

  • SBRT (7.5-8.0 Gy x 5 treatments)
  • 6 months of Lupron, Erleada, and Zytiga

After 30 months of follow-up:

  • 89 percent were free of biochemical failure
  • Median PSA at the last follow-up was 0.1 ng/ml
  • PSA remained undetectable in 40 percent of patients
  • Testosterone rose to non-castrate levels at a median of 6.5 months after hormone therapy ended, and almost all rose to > 150 ng/dl
  • 23 percent of patients experienced transient serious toxicities, mostly hypertension
  • Quality of life scores at 1 year held for urinary and rectal domains but declined in sexual and hormone domains.

How Do These results Compare to Other Trials of Radiation + ADT in High-Risk Patients?

Lin et al. used whole pelvic IMRT with an SBRT boost to the prostate and 2 years of ADT in 41 high- and very high-risk patients. With 4 years of follow-up, they reported 92 percent biochemical recurrence-free survival (bRFS).

Hoskin et al. used high-dose-rate brachytherapy as a monotherapy in 86 high-risk patients. Most (80 percent) had adjuvant ADT for a median of 6.3 months (range: 1-40 months). With 4 years of follow-up, they report 87 percent with bRFS among high-risk patients.

Zapatero et al. reported the results of the DART 01.03 GICOR trial of escalated dose IMRT with either short-term (4 months) or long-term (28 months) ADT. There were 185 high-risk patients with about half getting each ADT protocol. About a quarter received simultaneous radiation of their pelvic lymph nodes. With 5 years of follow-up, they report 76 percent with bRFS among high-risk patients who got short-term ADT and 88 percent with bRFS among high-risk patients who got long-term ADT.

Alan Pollack reported early results of the NRG Oncology 0534 or SPPORT randomized clinical trial at the ASTRO meeting in 2018. Approximately 600 patients with a biochemical failure after prostatectomy were treated with whole pelvic salvage radiation. They all received 4-6 months of adjuvant ADT. With 5 years of follow-up, they reported 89 percent with bRFS. (They defined this second bRFS as nadir + 2.0 ng/ml, as in radiation trials.)

This table summarizes these trials:

2.5 years of follow-up is too early to draw valid conclusions. We see that most of the trials had higher bRFS even with much longer follow-up; however, only AASUR recruited very high-risk patients exclusively. ICECAP has shown that only metastasis-free survival is a valid surrogate endpoint for overall survival. A trial among high-risk patients will have to run for 8-10 years to collect a sufficient number of metastases to draw valid conclusions, so we can only look at this as an early signal.

Treatment of Pelvic Lymph Nodes

We know that the time to be able to see the first few cancerous pelvic lymph nodes is often several years, so 2.5 years of follow-up tells us little. The newly approved PSMA PET scans will be able to rule out the larger metastases (> 5 mm), but will never be able to find metastases smaller than that. Waiting for visibility to make the decision to treat is a bad idea. By the time some lymph nodes are large enough or rapidly growing, the risk of spread outside the pelvic lymph node drainage area increases, and the hope of a cure may vanish.

The PSMA PET/CT is nevertheless worthwhile. While a negative scan does not change the treatment decision, a positive scan may detect occult metastases or pelvic lymph nodes that may benefit from a higher spot dose and more intense or longer hormone therapy.

We rely on validated formulas to tell us the probability that there are microscopic pelvic lymph node metastases. Two of the popular formulas are the Roach Equation (discussed here) and the Yale Formula (discussed here).

There is a risk of over-treatment. Many high-risk patients will never require pelvic lymph node treatment, and we are awaiting evidence (RTOG 0924) that such treatment will improve survival. As we have seen, bRFS is improved.

However, the only risk is that toxicity will be higher when the whole pelvis is treated. Murthy et al. showed that even at higher doses of pelvic lymph node radiation, there was no increase in acute toxicity, late gastrointestinal toxicity, and no deterioration in patient-reported quality of life scores.

Arguably, 25 extra IMRT treatments to the pelvic lymph nodes represent a patient inconvenience over the 5 SBRT prostate-only treatments. In the UCLA and Sunnybrook high-risk SBRT trials, the pelvic lymph nodes may be treated (to 25 Gy) within the same 5 treatments. So far, with limited follow-up, cancer control is high and toxicity is low.

Hormone Therapy Intensification

The DART 01.05 GICOR trial proved that long-term (28 months vs 4 months) ADT improves survival in high-risk patients even when treated with dose-escalated IMRT. Nabid et al. proved that 18 months is often as good as 36 months. AASUR suggests that, by including both Zytiga and Erleada, the duration of hormone therapy can be shortened. But the sexual and hormone quality of life did diminish. This raises questions that can only be answered in an expanded randomized clinical trial:

  • Are all three medications (Zytiga, Erleada, and Lupron) necessary for the benefit? The ACIS trial found that adding Erleada increased radiographic progression-free survival in mCRPC patients. There was no such synergy found in adding Xtandi to Zytiga in this non-randomized trial.
  • Do they add much to Lupron alone if whole pelvic radiation is given?
  • Does Lupron alone for, say, 9 months, with whole-pelvic SBRT (as in the UCLA trial) afford the same benefit with less toxicity? And would Orgovyx instead of Lupron allow for earlier testosterone recovery?
  • Can genomics (Prolaris or Decipher testing of biopsy tissue) identify patients who might benefit from the combined hormone therapy?

Editorial note: This commentary wax written by Allen Edel for The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink.

One Response

  1. Thank you Allen for this excellent review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: