CHAPEL HILL -- Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have received $5 million from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Aging to investigate prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men in the United States. This year, 37,000 U.S. men will die from the illness, according to the American Cancer Society, and 179,300 new cases will be diagnosed.
Specifically, the UNC-CH School of Medicine scientists will investigate mechanisms responsible for reappearance of hormone-independent prostate cancer in patients following treatment to remove the source of androgen. They also will investigate why black men develop prostate cancer twice as often as white men do.
Answering those questions should provide solid clues to the illness that will benefit both races, the scientists say.
"Prostate cancer requires male hormones known as androgens both to develop and to grow, and the same is true for benign prostate tissue," said Dr. James L. Mohler, associate professor of surgery. "One big difference is that cancer can spread, which obviously can make it fatal.
"Another is that if you take androgens away from a man with a benign but enlarged prostate, the prostate shrinks and stays small for the rest of his life," Mohler said. "With prostate cancer, however, if you take androgens away, the tumor goes into remission but will come back after several years having acquired the ability to grow again even without androgens."
UNC-CH researchers want to determine how the cancer can grow without male hormones. Such information might enable them to effectively cure prostate cancer just by preventing its re-growth, the surgeon said.
The new grant, a highly competitive award known as a program project, will cover five years work, said Mohler, who is principal investigator and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.