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% 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 4 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
- 4 or more cores of GS 8, or
- 2 high-risk features (stage T3/4, GS 8, or PSA>20)
- 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:
- 90% were free of biochemical failure
- Median PSA at the last follow-up was 0.1
- PSA remained undetectable in 40%
- 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% 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% biochemical recurrence-free survival (bRFS).
Hoskin et al. used high dose rate brachytherapy as a monotherapy in 86 high-risk patients. Most (80%) had adjuvant ADT for a median of 6.3 months (range 1-40 months). With 4 years of follow-up, they report 87% biochemical recurrence-free survival (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% bRFS among high-risk patients who got short-term ADT and 88% bRFS among high-risk patients who got long-term ADT.
(Update) Murthy et al. reported results of a trial where 224 men with ≥ 20% risk of pelvic lymph node metastases were screened with PSMA PET scans and were randomized to get whole pelvic radiation with a boost to the prostate or prostate-only radiation. They all received 2 years of adjuvant ADT. With 5 years of follow-up, they reported 95% bRFS.
This table summarizes these trials:
±SV (if MRI+)
≥20% LN risk
HR=high risk VHR=very high risk SV=seminal vesicles bRFS=biochemical recurrence-free survival: PSA stayed lower than nadir+2.0 ng/ml
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 on 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 overtreatment. 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 (discussed here), 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 3 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 of biopsy tissue) identify patients who might benefit from the combined hormone therapy?