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Prostate Cancer

Prostate Cancer Research Trial Helps
John Spencer Treat His Cancer

John Spencer

John Spencer is alive today, in part, because of timely detection and treatment of his prostate cancer. He participated in an NIH-sponsored clinical trial. Photo: Dr. Wesley Fowler

"My father in-law, John Spencer, is the ‘poster child' for our prostate cancer program here at the University of North Carolina," says Dr. Wesley Fowler, a professor in UNC's School of Medicine. Spencer was one of 46 men who participated in a clinical research trial to determine the value of a combination of chemotherapy drugs to treat advanced prostate cancer. Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the trial led to treatment advances for some types of prostate cancer.

Spencer started with a test to establish the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in his blood.

When did you learn you had prostate cancer?

I was diagnosed in 1996 when, because of my age, my doctor recommended testing for my PSA. Normal was somewhere between 0 and 4. Mine was 2,500.

How did you become involved in a clinical trial?

After the cancer was discovered, I began hormone treatment, but that failed. I'm lucky enough to have a daughter and son-in-law here at UNC. My son-in-law learned that a clinical trial had just started for people like me, whose hormone treatment for prostate cancer had failed. I was a logical candidate, so my wife and I moved to Chapel Hill in 1998.

NIH Research to Results

Immune Responses: Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently discovered that prostate tumors in mice can cause the cells of the immune system, known as CD8+ T cells, to change their normal function. Instead of preventing the growth of tumors, they suppress the body's usual immune responses. This finding has important implications for designing new immune-based cancer therapies.

Radiation Therapy: In a 20-year study, Mayo Clinic researchers found that radiation treatment is not only effective in destroying recurrent cancer in many patients, but it has few serious side effects.

Questions for Your Healthcare Provider

  • Which prostate screening tests are reliable? Should I be screened?
  • What other prostate problems can cause the same symptoms?
  • What type of prostate cancer do I have?
  • Which treatment option is best for me?
  • What are the chances the cancer will return?
  • What, if any, medications do I need to take? What are their side effects?
  • How long is the recovery period for prostate surgery?
  • What are the side effects of surgery, and how can we minimize them?

How did it turn out?

It worked very well. I received a cocktail of chemotherapy, steroids, and other medications. After three rounds, my PSA level was almost undetectable.

To find out more about clinical trials and how you or a loved one can participate, visit

How to Get Involved with Clinical Trials

John Spencer participated in an NIH-sponsored research trial that successfully treated his prostate cancer—and aided in development of more effective prostate cancer drugs.

What Is a Clinical Trial?

Clinical trials are research studies that test how well new medical approaches work in people. Their goal is to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose, or treat a disease. Clinical cancer trial participants have an opportunity to contribute to the advance of knowledge, and progress against cancer, while receiving up-to-date expert care.

Who Sponsors Clinical Trials?

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and other agencies of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, both sponsor and conduct clinical trials. Numerous organizations, physicians, medical institutions, foundations, volunteer groups, and pharmaceutical companies also undertake clinical trials.

How Can I Find Out More About Specific Clinical Trials? ( is a registry of federal and private clinical trials conducted in the United States and worldwide. It lists the trial's purpose, who may participate, locations, and detailed contact information.


Read More "Prostate Cancer" Articles

Progress Against Prostate Cancer / Prostate Cancer Research Trial Helps John Spencer Treat His Cancer / Prostate Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Winter 2010 Issue: Volume 5 Number 1 Pages 23 - 24