Harvard M.D. Finds Cancer Drug

New Prostate Treatment Effective and Safe

A Medical School doctor said yesterday he and another researcher have found a new treatment for prostate cancer without the severe negative side effects of traditional methods.

The new drug, leuprolide, will provide an alternative to predominant techniques of castration and DES estrogen therapy, according to associate professor Marc B. Garnick, who conducted the study appearing in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Prostate cancer kills 25,000 American men a year, more than all other forms of the affliction besides lung cancer. The average age at diagnosis is 70.

DES decreases the cancer growth, but it also can cause blood clots, cardiovascular complications, and accumulations of fluid in the breasts, Garnick said.

Since most patients are older men, the risk of cardiovascular problems associated with DES is especially great.


Garnick said that leuprolide combats the disease as well as DES does, but that it has no known side effects besides hot flashes.

Like castration and DES (diethylstilbestorol) therapy, leuprolide helps to neutralize or eliminate the hormone testosterone, which the cancer cells need in order to multiply.

Garnick and L. Michael Glode of the University of Colorado Medical Center conducted the four-year study at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. They observed 199 patients with prostate cancer, approximately half of them being treated with DES and half on leuprolide.

They found that 85 percent of the DES patients and 86 percent of the leuprolide patients responded to treatment, but those on DES suffered from breast swelling, vomiting, cardiovascular problems, while those on leuprolide only reported hot flashes.

Awaiting Approval

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will probably approve the drug for public use within the next four to six months, Garnick said.

"The FDA has all the information, it just needs to act on it. There's nothing to impede its approval," he added.

Other Methods Will Remain

Garnick cautioned that leuprolide should not completely supplant traditional treatments.

Although the new drug "will assume a major role," he said doctors will continue to perform castrations and use DES to fight the disease.