Massey first in Richmond to offer cutting-edge therapy for metastatic prostate cancer

Video by the New England Journal of Medicine

Video by the New England Journal of Medicine

VCU Massey Cancer Center is the first cancer care provider in the Richmond metropolitan region to offer radium-223, an innovative, new drug that has been shown to increase survival and quality of life in patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC).

“Recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, radium-223 is the first drug of its kind for the treatment of metastatic CRPC,” says Melvin Fratkin, M.D., professor and chair of Nuclear Medicine in the Department of Radiology at VCU School of Medicine, who administers the radium-223 at Massey. “It is a significant advancement because it can be combined with standard therapies to fight prostate cancer that has spread to patients’ bones.”

Radium-223 is a radioactive isotope that emits alpha particle radiation. It is similar to calcium because it accumulates in the areas of bone that are undergoing increased turnover, such as areas where bone metastases are forming. When the radium reaches the bone, it emits very low levels of radiation, which travel approximately four one-thousandths of an inch, killing the cancer cells and limiting damage to surrounding tissue.

Bone metastases are a frequent and serious complication of prostate cancer. In fact, more than two out of three metastatic prostate cancers spread to the bones, which can cause intense pain, weakness and bone fractures that greatly impair quality of life and, in some cases, cause death. Although there are several FDA-approved drugs to prevent these symptoms, none of them—except radium-223—increased survival.

A recent phase 3 clinical trial known as the Alpharadin in Symptomatic Prostate Cancer Patients (ALYSMPCA) trial evaluated the effectiveness of radium-223 in men with metastatic CRPC. The study enrolled 921 patients who were randomly selected to either receive radium-223 plus the best standard of care or a placebo plus the best standard of care. The trial found that men who were assigned the radium-223 survived more than three months longer than men assigned the placebo. The trial was stopped early to allow men taking the placebo to “cross over” and take the radium. Learn more about the ALYSMPCA clinical trial.

“Radium-223 is a great example of how clinical trials can lead to medical advances that change the lives of patients,” says Massey medical hematologist-oncologist, Craig Swainey, M.D., who led the ALYSMPCA trial at Massey and specializes in the treatment of prostate cancer.

Radium-223 is given intravenously once a month for six months. The treatment is considered to be safe and manageable for both patients and providers and is covered by Medicare.