Researchers from Northwestern University have found that Black men and men of African ancestry respond better than men from other backgrounds to immunotherapy when being treated for prostate cancer. This comes even though they are also more likely to die of the condition.
Each year in the US, there are around 175,000 new cases of prostate cancer and around 32,000 deaths. While the severity and resulting mortality rate of the cancer are two times higher among patients of African American descent, African American men with advanced prostate cancer have improved survival outcomes after a course of immunotherapy.
For the study, the researchers analyzed the genomics of 1,300 tumor samples, each labeled with self-identified race or genetic ancestry. In doing so, they found that men who had tumors with more immune cells known as plasma cells had an improved chance of becoming cancer-free post-surgery. While this was true regardless of men's race, they found that Black men's tumors tended to contain more of these cells than those of their white counterparts.
"If a man's prostate cancer has numerous plasma cells, we found he had improved cancer survival," says Dr. Edward Schaeffer, lead author of the study. "Our study suggests plasma cells are important in the body's response to cancer."
"The finding comes at a time as researchers are discovering plasma cells may play a greater role in cancer immunotherapy than previously thought," says Dr. Adam Weiner, a first author of the study. "Testing for plasma cells in prostate cancer may help identify men who will benefit from immune-based treatments."
The researchers are now developing clinical trials to see whether increasing plasma cells in prostate cancers for men of all races and ancestry can both make immunotherapy more effective and improve survival outcomes.