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Editorial: Translating cost-utility modelling into the real world – the case of focal high-intensity focussed ultrasound and active surveillance

Health economic modelling is always a challenge. The inputs are never quite what we want them to be. The literature that we have at our disposal suffers from the inevitable deficiencies of lack of maturity, ever diminishing relevance, and questionable applicability as practice evolves. The modelling can never quite reflect the nuances and vagaries of clinical practice. However, the process is an important and in some cases (evaluation by the UK’s National Institute of Clinical and Care Excellence) a necessary one. Knowing the cost of achieving a given health status over a defined time frame is an important consideration in the allocation resource in any finite system of care.

The paper by Bénard et al. [1] is most useful in helping us to understand what the issues are and how our decision-making might impact on cost in the context of low-to-moderate risk prostate cancer.

The issue with these types of analyses is the degree to which the inevitable assumptions made by the investigators are consistent with current practice. Below I have tried to identify some of the areas in which the assumptions diverge from current knowledge and ‘know-how’, in order to illustrate just how difficult the task that Bénard et al. [1] have undertaken.

The first relates to the assumption that both strategies can be applied to the same population. They cannot, or perhaps more correctly – should not. For instance, nobody I know would offer a man focal treatment who had well-characterised micro-focal low-volume Gleason 3+3 (or Gleason Grade Group 1) [2]. We know, from what now constitutes a considerable body of level-1 evidence, that there is no benefit to be derived from intervening in disease that confers little, if any, risk of premature death [3]. Today, focal therapy tends to be applied to men with well-characterised, visually localised Gleason Grade Group ≥2, who want to avoid radical whole gland therapy and the genitourinary side-effects associated with them [4].

The second relates to the synergies between the two treatments. Increasingly men who opt for active surveillance (AS) upfront have an increasing tendency to opt for focal treatment on radiological progression of any lesion under scrutiny. This makes quite a bit of intuitive sense. These are men who appear comfortable with the process of observation, are likely to place high utility on genitourinary function, may have exhibited a very stable background prostate (apart from the expanding lesion depicted on MRI), are likely to be very well informed, and will, by now, be very well-characterised histologically. These, as it happens, are the ideal attributes for a candidate for focal therapy.

The third is a reflection on the relevance of the literature to inform the question being posed. It is no fault of the authors that AS has changed beyond recognition in the last few years. This change has been driven by the use of MRI in the risk stratification process for candidate selection, the substation of temporal biopsy assessment by imaging and the reduction, and at times elimination, of the re-classification vs progression error that confounds most of the literature on
surveillance. Modelling events on historical single-institution cohorts (as AS has never been evaluated in a randomised setting apart from one comparison against focal therapy) is probably unhelpful in helping us to understand and inform our future [5].

The fourth concerns scope. Why limit this analysis to focal high-intensity focussed ultrasound? All focal therapies, irrespective of energy source, seem to produce very similar outcomes, both in terms of freedom from failure (time to radical treatment and/or metastasis) and in relation to preservation of genitourinary function. Broadening the scope, by including vascular targeted photo-therapy and cryotherapy, would have meant that randomised trials could have been
included as inputs, with the effect of possibly reducing the high levels of uncertainty that bedevil the current analysis [5,6].

The fifth recognises the dynamic nature of the progression risk in AS cohorts. This is an important, but poorly recognised, attribute of the mature AS cohorts that we tend to rely upon. These cohorts are dynamic entities that have as entrants men of increasingly lower risk (due to a recent improvement in risk stratification) and, at the same time, continually exit the very men with the highest risk, i.e., the ‘progressors’. Thus, over time, the cohort undergoes a gradual, but inevitable, reduction in risk. The more mature the cohort, the greater the reduction. By referencing mature cohorts (when trying to predict the fate of future patients) we
will, therefore, have a tendency to over-estimate the benefit/safety of AS in a contemporary setting.

This is not to say that we should not endeavour to estimate the cost of achieving a given health state. We need this, perhaps more than ever. What we need to strive towards are models that represent both the reality of practice and the very latest, and most subtle, distillation of the current evidence.

by Mark Emberton

 

References

  1. Bénard A, Duroux T, Robert G. Cost-utility analysis of focal high-intensity focussed ultrasound vs active surveillance for low- to intermediate-risk prostate cancer using a Markov multi-state model. BJU Int 2019; 124: 962–71
  2. Klotz L, Emberton M. Management of low risk prostate cancer-active surveillance and focal therapy. Nat Rev Clin Oncol 2014; 11: 324–34
  3. Hamdy FC, Donovan JL, Lane JA et al. 10-year outcomes after monitoring, surgery, or radiotherapy for localized prostate cancer. N Engl J Med 2016; 375: 1415–24
  4. Elliott D, Hamdy FC, Leslie TA et al. Overcoming difficulties with equipoise to enable recruitment to a randomised controlled trial of partial ablation vs radical prostatectomy for unilateral localised prostate cancer. JU Int 2018; 122: 970–7
  5. Azzouzi AR, Vincendeau S, Barret E et al. Padeliporfin vascular-targeted photodynamic therapy versus active surveillance in men with low-risk prostate cancer (CLIN1001 PCM301): an open-label, phase 3, randomised controlled trial. Lancet Oncol 2017; 18: 181–91
  6. Donnelly BJ, Saliken JC, Brasher PM et al. A randomized trial of external beam radiotherapy versus cryoablation in patients with localized prostate cancer. Cancer 2010; 116: 323–30

 

 

Editorial: PSA persistence after radical prostatectomy needs more than standard therapeutic options to improve outcomes

In their retrospective study, Bartkowiak et al. [1] report the therapeutic outcomes of salvage radiation therapy (sRT) after radical prostatectomy (RP) for lymph‐node‐negative prostate cancer in 422 and 133 patients with biochemical relapse or persistently detectable PSA, respectively. In the total cohort, patients with persistent PSA serum levels ≥0.1 ng/mL postoperatively had significantly shorter progression‐free survival as compared to patients with undetectable PSA levels (P < 0.001). After risk‐matched analysis, PSA persistence was not a risk factor associated with poor outcome and only a PSA serum concentration ≥0.5 ng/mL at time of sRT was associated with early relapse in both patients with detectable and those with undetectable PSA levels postoperatively.

Although this retrospective study adds some additional evidence to support the already well‐known recommendation to initiate sRT as early as possible [2], there are various issues that need to be considered when it comes to the interpretation of sRT results in patients with PSA persistence. The patient cohort is heterogeneous since the men underwent surgery between the years 1989 and 2012 and sRT between the years 1997 and 2012. The treatment strategies and techniques used with regard to surgery and sRT are outdated and no longer reflect current practice. No patient underwent modern imaging studies to identify extent and anatomical distribution of relapsing lesions, and neither was a risk‐adapted approach realized using nomograms or molecular markers in order to stratify treatment dependent on the biological aggressiveness of the disease.

PSA persistence is associated with an increased risk of metastases and impaired cancer‐specific survival as compared to undetectable PSA levels after RP for patients with negative and positive lymph nodes [3,4,5]. In fact, the majority of patients with persisting PSA serum levels postoperatively have locally advanced prostate cancer, positive lymph nodes, positive surgical margins and high Gleason scores. In almost all published studies, PSA persistence has been identified as an independent risk factor for the development of systemic metastases and poor survival. Similar results have already been reported by Wiegel et al. [5] when analysing outcomes among 74 patients with PSA persistence after RP; postoperatively detectable PSA was associated with significantly poorer outcomes in terms of metastasis‐free (84% vs 93%) and overall survival (68% vs 86%), and remaining without androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) during follow‐up (57% vs 92%).

PSA persistence needs to be taken seriously even at low serum concentrations, necessitating the implementation of new imaging methods and combination therapies. Because PSA persistence is associated with adverse pathological features, a treatment strategy to avoid PSA persistence is initiated already at the time of RP, integrating preoperative MRI, intra‐operative frozen‐section analysis and extended pelvic lymphadenectomy in order to achieve complete resection of the prostate cancer with undetectable PSA levels 6 weeks postoperatively.

In addition to properly conducted surgery, innovative imaging techniques, such as 68gallium (68Ga) prostate‐specific membrane antigen (PSMA)‐positron emission tomography (PET)/CT, should be integrated into treatment to differentiate locoregional recurrences from systemic metastases. In this context, Schmidt‐Hegemann et al. [6] evaluated the impact of 68GaPSMA‐PET/CT on subsequent treatment in 129 patients, of whom 48% demonstrated PSA persistence. In their analysis, patients with persistently detectable PSA serum levels more often demonstrated PSMA‐positive lesions (70% vs 50%), less frequently experienced local recurrences only (12% vs 26%), and more often had positive lymph nodes (13% vs 5%) with or without a macroscopically persisting tumour in the prostatic fossa (45% vs 19%). Results from PSMA‐PET/CT changed the initial treatment of sRT in so far as all patients with positive lesions underwent a combination of sRT and ADT. In patients with isolated, intrapelvic lymph node metastases attributable to an improperly performed extended pelvic lymphadectomy, salvage lymphadectomy might also be integrated into the therapeutic armamentarium, resulting in a long‐term relapse‐free survival of ~40%.

Even patients with persisting PSA serum concentrations after undergoing RP exhibit a heterogeneous clinical course of the disease, therefore, a risk‐adapted, personalized approach stratifying biologically aggressive from less aggressive prostate cancer should be adopted. In a retrospective study in 925 patients who underwent sRT, PSA persistence was associated with a significantly lower 8‐year metastasis‐free survival rate when compared to patients with PSA relapse following undetectable postoperative PSA serum concentrations [3]. Furthermore, it was shown that PSA persistence and a Gleason score ≥8 were independent, statistically significant predictors for systemic metastases, with a hazard ratio of 4.64 (95% CI 3.06–7.02; P < 0.001) and 8.37 (95% CI 4.15–16.88; P < 0.001), respectively. Patients with both PSA persistence and Gleason score ≥8 had a significantly lower 8‐year metastasis‐free survival rate as compared with patients with only PSA persistence (62% vs 74%); therefore, the latter might be best treated with a combined approach of sRT and ADT.

Integration of molecular markers might be helpful to identify those patients who will benefit from sRT. Spratt et al. [7] evaluated whether a 22‐gene genomic classifier could independently predict development of metastasis in 477 patients with PSA persistence postoperatively. Among those with detectable PSA, the 5‐year metastasis rate was 0.90% for genomic low/intermediate and 18% for genomic high risk (P < 0.001). Genomic high risk remained independently prognostic on multivariable analysis (hazard ratio 5.61, 95% CI 1.48–22.7; P = 0.01) among patients with detectable PSA. The C‐index for the combination of the genomic classifier with Cancer of the Prostate Risk Assessment (CAPRA) score was 0.82.

In summary, modern management of persistent PSA serum concentrations after RP needs to take into consideration the pathohistology of the RP and lymph node specimens, results from PSMA‐PET/CT, molecular markers associated with relapse and response as well as individualized therapeutic strategies such as sRT ± ADT, salvage lymphadenectomy and additional salvage radiation to oligometastatic sites.

by Axel Heidenreich and David Pfister

References

  1. Bartkowiak DSiegmann ABöhmer DBudach VWiegel TThe impact of PSA persistence after prostatectomy on the efficacy of salvage radiotherapy in primary N0 patients. BJU Int 2019; 124: 785-91
  2. NICE guidelines on prostate cancer 2019BJU Int 20191249– 26
  3. Fossati NKarnes RJColicchia M et al. Impact of early salvage radiation therapy in patients with persistently elevated or rising prostate‐specific antigen after radical prostatectomyEur Urol 2018; 73: 434-44.
  4. Preisser F, Chun FKHPompe RS et al. Persistent prostate‐specific antigen after radical prostatectomy and its impact on oncologic outcomesEur Urol 201976106– 14
  5. Wiegel TBartkowiak DBottke D et al. Prostate‐specific antigen persistence after radical prostatectomy as a predictive factor of clinical relapse‐free survival and overall survival: 10‐year data of the ARO 96‐02 trial. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 201591288– 94
  6. Schmidt‐Hegemann NSFendler WPIlhan H et al. Outcome after PSMA PET/CT based radiotherapy in patients with biochemical persistence or recurrence after radical prostatectomy. Radiat Oncol 20181337
  7. Spratt DEDai DLYDen RB et al. Performance of a prostate cancer genomic classifier in predicting metastasis in men with prostate‐specific antigen persistence postprostatectomy. Eur Urol 201874107– 14

 

Editorial: Fusion‐guided biopsy to guide active surveillance in African‐American men?

This timely and important article by Bloom et al. [1] highlights findings that warrant special attention in an effort to address and reduce racial disparities in low‐risk prostate cancer. At the population level, African‐American (AA) men are 76% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 2.2‐times more likely to die from prostate cancer compared with other men in the USA. Emerging evidence suggests that racial disparities in patients diagnosed with advanced stage or higher‐risk disease may be predominantly accounted for by social factors and healthcare access [1,2]. In contrast, there is growing evidence that raises the question of whether disparities in low‐risk disease may be driven by underlying tumour and/or biopsy misclassification differences [2,3,4].

Bloom et al. [1] examined a USA study cohort from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and found that amongst men referred to the NCI with a prior 12‐core systematic biopsy (SB), AA men with Gleason Grade (GG) 1 disease were nearly twice as likely to be upgraded by targeted multiparametric (mp)MRI fusion‐guided biopsy when compared with non‐AA men. These findings are consistent with contemporary data in the USA‐based Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program, where amongst 20 125 men (including 2594 AA men) with clinical National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) low‐risk prostate cancer (GG 1 on biopsy) who underwent radical prostatectomy (RP) from 2010 to 2015, AA men were more likely to have pathological upgrading at the time of RP when compared with non‐AA men (47.3% vs 45.3%; adjusted hazard ratio 1.12, 95% CI 1.03–1.22, P = 0.007; unpublished analysis). Furthermore, the study findings are consistent with prior work that has shown that AA men with NCCN very‐low‐risk disease who underwent RP were more likely to have disease upgrading at RP (27.3% vs 14.4%; P < 0.001), positive surgical margins (9.8% vs 5.9%; P = 0.02), and higher Cancer of the Prostate Risk Assessment Post‐Surgical scoring system (CAPRA‐S) scores [5]; notably these AA men with very‐low‐risk disease also had a distinct zonal distribution of prostate cancer when compared with other men, with anterior tumours that are more difficult to sample by standard 12‐core SB alone [3].

Although low‐grade/risk disease is considered prognostically favourable and can be managed conservatively with active surveillance (AS), racial differences in outcome and zonal distribution of disease observed in favourable‐risk cohorts has led to controversy over the use of AS in AA men. Furthermore, conservative management trials have severely under‐represented patients of African descent. In this setting, most treatment guidelines advise caution when applying AS to AA patients. As such, although AS rates for low‐risk disease have nearly tripled in the USA from 14.5% to 42.1% from 2010 to 2015, there is lower relative uptake of AS for AA men compared with other men, even after adjusting for socioeconomic status, suggesting that providers and patients may be ‘risk‐stratifying’ AA patients with low‐risk disease into a higher‐risk category, and therefore less willing to proceed with AS [6].

Ultimately, the application of AS to AA patients with low‐risk disease will remain controversial and providers will make decisions based on observational data until a representative trial can help answer: (i) whether AA men diagnosed with low‐risk disease who are eligible for AS might be more likely to have distinct aggressive disease features compared with non‐AA men, and (ii) whether there might be strategies, such as guided‐fusion biopsy and/or incorporation of tumour genomics prior to AS, to help identify AA patients with underlying aggressive disease and appropriately select AA men with low‐risk disease for AS protocols.

The most interesting and important result found by Bloom et al. [1] is that amongst men who underwent mpMRI fusion‐guided biopsy after initial diagnosis of low‐risk disease on SB and who ultimately were continued on AS (those who were upgraded at the time of fusion‐guided biopsy became ineligible for AS), AA and non‐AA men had similar progression rates on AS. This result suggests that incorporation of techniques such as mpMRI and fusion biopsy may help better select AA men for AS when compared with standard 12‐core SB. Specifically, MRI guided‐biopsy may reduce disparate misclassification errors by increasing detection of higher grade and more anterior tumours that are more likely to be found in AA men who initially present with low‐risk disease after standard SB. As such, this strategy may represent one mechanism to better select AA men for AS and therefore may be able to reduce disparities in low‐risk disease.

The authors should be applauded for their important work, and this study builds on a growing body of evidence that clearly demonstrates the need for prospective trials examining different diagnostic/prognostic strategies that may reduce disparities in low‐risk disease by more appropriately selecting AA men for AS strategies.

by Brandon A. Mahal (@BrandonMahal)

References

  1. Krimphove MJCole APFletcher SA et al. Evaluation of the contribution of demographics, access to health care, treatment, and tumor characteristics to racial differences in survival of advanced prostate cancer. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis 201922125– 36
  2. Mahal BABerman RATaplin MEHuang FW Prostate cancer‐specific mortality across Gleason scores in black vs nonblack men. JAMA 20183202479– 81
  3. Sundi DKryvenko ONCarter HBRoss AEEpstein JISchaeffer EM Pathological examination of radical prostatectomy specimens in men with very low risk disease at biopsy reveals distinct zonal distribution of cancer in black American men. J Urol 201419160– 7
  4. Mahal BAAlshalalfa MSpratt DE Prostate cancer genomic‐risk differences between African‐American and white men across Gleason scores. Eur Urol 2019751038– 40
  5. Sundi DRoss AEHumphreys EB et al. African American men with very low‐risk prostate cancer exhibit adverse oncologic outcomes after radical prostatectomy: should active surveillance still be an option for them? J Clin Oncol 2013312991– 7
  6. Butler SMuralidhar VChavez J et al. Active surveillance for low‐risk prostate cancer in black patients. N Engl J Med 20193802070– 2

 

 

Editorial: Avoiding biopsy in men with PI‐RADS scores 1 and 2 on mpMRI of the prostate, ready for prime time?

In 2019 is it safe to avoid prostate biopsy in men with Prostate Imaging Reporting and Data System (PI‐RADS) score 1 and 2 lesions reported on their multiparametric MRI (mpMRI)? In this journal, Venderink et al. [1] suggest that more than half the men being investigated for suspected prostate cancer could indeed safely avoid an initial biopsy. However, like other investigators in this field, the authors make an assumption in their study that there is such a paucity of clinically significant cancer in men with PI‐RADS 1 and 2 lesions, that biopsy is not deemed necessary, as in the PRECISION study [2]. In this study [1] from the Netherlands, of the 2281 men with an initial diagnosis of PI‐RADS 1 or 2 lesions, only 320 men had follow‐up mpMRI, and biopsies were only performed in a small number of men with PI‐RADS scores ≥ 3. Whilst one could conclude that 84% of men did not progress, based on serial imaging, one cannot prove what may have been missed.

Comparing mpMRI of the prostate to the reference standard of radical prostatectomy whole‐mount specimens, a study from the University of California, Los Angeles showed that mpMRI can potentially miss up to 35% of clinically significant cancers, and up to 20% of high grade cancers. It found that 74% of missed solitary tumours were clinically significant, including 23% with Gleason ≥4 + 3 = 7, and that 38.7% were >1 cm in diameter [3]. As such, these missed cancers were not all small, low grade and clinically insignificant. An Italian study confirmed these findings with a detection rate of clinically significant prostate cancer outside the index lesion seen on mpMRI in 30% of patients [4]. All urologists are aware that biopsy by any means can never detect all the cancers seen on formal whole‐mount histopathology, but we do have evidence using transperineal prostate mapping biopsies as the reference standard as to what may be missed. The PROMIS study [5] provides the best evidence using several definitions of clinically significant cancer. Using Gleason ≥4 + 3 or cancer core length >6 mm the negative predictive value (NPV) of a negative mpMRI was 89%. However, if the criteria were altered to any Gleason 7 cancer, the NPV falls to 76%. This is also supported by a multicentre study by Hansen et al. [6], which demonstrated that the NPV of a negative mpMRI for excluding Gleason 7–10 cancer was 80%, but improved to 91% with a PSA density of <0.1 ng/mL/mL, and to 89% with a PSA density of <0.15 ng/mL/mL. It is important to note that these studies used transperineal biopsies rather than 12‐core transrectal biopsies, suggesting the latter to be a more unreliable reference test with a greater probability of missing clinically significant cancer on systematic sampling.

Are all Gleason 3 + 4 = 7 cancers < 6 mm in core length, for example, 5 mm Gleason 3 + 4 (40%) = 7 cancer, truly clinically insignificant? If that were the case, favourable intermediate‐risk prostate cancer would have to be an accepted indication for active surveillance (AS) in men, and in most cases this is not the case. National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines recommend that men with favourable intermediate‐risk prostate cancer should only be offered AS if the PSA is <10 ng/mL, the lesion is cT1 and the percentage of positive cores is <50%. Prostate Cancer Research International Active Surveillance (PRIAS) criteria only accept men with favourable intermediate‐risk prostate cancer if there is a maximum of two cores involved, PSA density is <0.2 ng/mL/mL, and if it represents <10% of the core. Both European Association of Urology and AUA guidelines caution that if men are offered AS with favourable intermediate‐risk disease, they should be warned of the greater risk of developing metastatic spread. It is therefore clear that major international guidelines do not fully support AS for intermediate‐risk prostate cancers and therefore it may not be acceptable to be missing Gleason 3 + 4 cancers in up to 10–20% of men with normal prostate mpMRI results.

Multiparametric MRI of the prostate has been a huge advance in prostate cancer diagnostics and is now widely used internationally, but does have limitations. Based on the available data, men who choose not to be biopsied with a normal prostate mpMRI should be warned, as part of informed consent, that a clinically significant cancer could be missed in up to 10–20% of cases (depending on PSA density) and close follow‐up should be recommended. One could easily argue that men with normal prostate mpMRI but with PSA density >0.15 ng/mL/mL should still be offered a systematic biopsy. Perhaps the future lies in the genomics of mpMRI‐visible vs ‐invisible lesions, with a recent study showing that there is a confluence of aggressive molecular and pathological features in lesions visible on MRI. Future research may be able to determine if indeed it is safe to leave some Gleason 3 + 4 = 7 cancers undetected if invisible on mpMRI because of their lack of genomic and metabolic aggression rather than based on their Gleason pattern [7].

by Mark Frydenberg

References

  1. Verderink WVan Luijtelaar AVan der Leest M et al. Multiparametric MRI and follow up to avoid prostate biopsy in 4259 men. BJU Int 2019124775– 84
  2. Kasivisvanathan ASRannikko MBorghi V et al. MRI targeted or standard biopsy for prostate cancer diagnosis. N Engl J Med 20183781767– 77
  3. Johnson DCRaman SSMirak SA et al. Detection of individual prostate cancer foci via multiparametric magnetic resonance imaging. Eur Urol 201975712– 20
  4. Stabile Adell’Oglio Pde Cobelli F et al. Association between prostate Imaging Reporting and data system (PIRADS) score for the index lesion and multifocal clinically significant prostate cancer. Eur Urol Oncol 2018129– 3336
  5. Ahmed HUBasally ABrown LC et al. Diagnostic accuracy of multiparametric MRI and TRUS biopsy in prostate cancer (PROMIS): a paired validating confirmatory study. Lancet 2017389815– 22
  6. Hansen NLBarrett TKesch C et al. Multicentre evaluation of magnetic resonance imaging supported transperineal prostate biopsy in biopsy naïve men with suspicion of prostate cancer. BJU Int 201812240– 9
  7. Houlahan KESalmasi ASadun TY et al. Molecular hallmarks of multiparametric magnetic resonance imaging visibility in prostate cancer. Eur Urol 20197618– 23

 

 

Editorial: Androgen receptor splice variant 7 (AR‐V7) and AR full‐length (AR‐FL) as predictive biomarkers of therapeutic resistance: partners in crime?

The prostate cancer treatment armamentarium has expanded over the last decade to include taxane‐based chemotherapies (docetaxel, cabazitaxel), sipulecel‐T, radium‐233, and newer androgen receptor (AR) signalling (ARS) inhibitors (abiraterone, enzalutamide, apalutamide). Despite these improvements, persistent ARS remains a key driver of prostate cancer progression after androgen‐deprivation therapy (ADT), transition to castrate‐resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), and even after resistance to ARS inhibitors. Cross‐resistance between ARS inhibitors is common. Predictive biomarkers are therefore needed to optimise treatment selection. Mechanisms of resistance have been attributed to genomic heterogeneity; molecular alterations to the AR and/or upregulation of bypass mechanisms that drive AR activation, including expression of AR splice variants lacking the ligand‐binding domain. AR splice variant 7 (AR‐V7), the most abundant AR splice variant, has been implicated in abiraterone and enzalutamide resistance and poor patient outcomes. Whilst knowledge of AR‐V7 status may guide treatment decisions, AR‐V7 alone cannot sufficiently predict response; detection of other variants (ARv567es) or partners, such as AR full‐length (AR‐FL), might improve prediction.

In this issue of BJUI, Del Re et al. [1] evaluated the expression of AR‐V7 and AR‐FL in exosomal RNA as combined predictive biomarkers of resistance to ARS therapy. AR‐FL was detected in all 73 patients (22% were AR‐V7 positive), and AR‐FL expression was significantly higher in AR‐V7‐positive vs AR‐V7‐negative patients (P < 0.001). These findings that AR‐V7 detection has the higher impact on response to therapy confirmed several previous studies; however, the authors took a novel approach to refine the predictive value by stratifying the patient pool into AR‐V7‐positive and ‐negative populations, and then into tertiles based on AR‐FL expression. Analysis of patient outcomes, both in terms of overall (OS) and progression‐free survival (PFS), in these six groups reveals a more nuanced potential treatment strategy. Although AR‐V7 expression better predicts OS and PFS to ARS therapy than does AR‐FL expression, patients with discordant AR‐FL expression relative to their AR‐V7 expression may also benefit from treatment different from that which their AR‐V7 status would suggest. For example, patients positive for AR‐V7 but in the bottom tertile of AR‐FL expression may be effectively treated with anti‐androgen therapies; a breakthrough for patients ineligible for chemotherapy. Additionally, patients negative for AR‐V7 but in the top tertile of AR‐FL expression may respond better to front‐line taxane chemotherapy. Thus, the addition of AR‐FL to AR‐V7 may aid in better treatment selection.

Recently, the Development of Circulating Molecular Predictors of Chemotherapy and Novel Hormonal Therapy Benefit in Men With Metastatic Castration‐Resistant Prostate Cancer (PROPHECY) trial (NCT02269982) prospectively validated the clinical utility of AR‐V7 by demonstrating that detection of AR‐V7 in circulating tumour cells (by two blood‐based assays) is predictive of whether patients with CRPC have become resistant to ARS inhibitors, thereby reducing future benefit from further ARS inhibitor therapy. Although the PROPHECY study found a strong association between positive AR‐V7 and anti‐androgen therapy resistance, some AR‐V7‐negative men did still exhibit resistance to anti‐androgen therapy, showing that a second predictive marker (like AR‐FL) would be helpful to further guide patient selection [2]. It would be interesting to see whether the approach described in Del Re et al. [1] could be replicated using the PROPHECY trial data. Moreover, a recent study established that AR‐V7 is very rarely expressed in primary tissue, with expression emerging in response to primary ADT (and in CRPC progression) and further enhanced in resistance to ARS inhibitors [3]. AR‐V7 was shown to associate with AR‐FL expression and copy number in CRPC, with many cases of high AR‐FL expression having undetectable/low AR‐V7 expression, indicating that mRNA splicing remains crucial for AR‐V7 generation. Although AR‐V7‐negative tumours responded to ARS therapy as expected, some AR‐V7‐positive tumours also responded, suggesting that AR‐V7 detection does not preclude response to ARS therapy and providing further evidence that a second marker could be useful as a predictive tool. Finally, AR‐V7 status in determining taxane response/resistance remains in conflict with studies either showing that taxanes retain activity in patients with positive AR‐V7 or that the absence of AR splice variants (AR‐V7 and ARv567es) may be associated with superior response to taxane treatment, leading to the hypothesis that AR‐FL would be most sensitive to taxane treatment, followed by ARv567es and AR‐V7 [4,5].

While several studies have shown that the AR‐V7/AR‐FL ratio tends to be elevated in CRPC tissues, the role of AR‐FL as a predictive biomarker for AR‐targeted therapy remains controversial. One study found that positive AR‐V7, but not higher AR‐FL, was associated with worse prognosis [6]. As detection methodologies in liquid biopsies and AR data analysis improve over time, the interplay between AR‐FL and AR‐V7, as well other AR variants, warrants further study, which should shed light on whether AR‐V7 and/or AR‐FL (either as homodimers or possibly heterodimers with AR‐V7) are driving resistance to ARS inhibitors. Are they equal partners or is one the dominant driver of the crime?

by Roberto H. Barbier, Cindy H. Chau and William D. Figg

References

  1. Del Re MCrucitta SSbrana A et al. AR‐V7 and AR‐FL expression is associated with clinical outcome: a translational study in patients with castrate-resistant prostate cancer. BJU Int 2019124693– 700
  2. Armstrong AJHalabi SLuo J et al. Prospective multicenter validation of androgen receptor splice variant 7 and hormone therapy resistance in high‐risk castration‐resistant prostate cancer: the PROPHECY study. J Clin Oncol 2019371120– 9
  3. Sharp AColeman IYuan W et al. Androgen receptor splice variant‐7 expression emerges with castration resistance in prostate cancer. J Clin Invest 2019129192– 208
  4. Scher HIGraf RPSchreiber NA et al. Assessment of the validity of nuclear‐localized androgen receptor splice variant 7 in circulating tumor cells as a predictive biomarker for castration‐resistant prostate cancer. JAMA Oncol 201841179– 86
  5. Tagawa STAntonarakis ESGjyrezi A et al. Expression of AR‐V7 and ARv(567es) in circulating tumor cells correlates with outcomes to taxane therapy in men with metastatic prostate cancer treated in TAXYNERGY. Clin Cancer Res 2019251880– 8
  6. Zhu YSharp AAnderson CM et al. Novel junction‐specific and quantifiable in situ detection of AR‐V7 and its clinical correlates in metastatic castration‐resistant prostate cancer. Eur Urol 201873727– 35

 

Editorial: Do you need further assistance in diagnosing and risk stratifying prostate cancer?

I would hope the answer to the question posed in the title is a universal ‘yes’; at least that is my experience with this complex and common disease. The concept that in 2019, we have unmet needs in prostate cancer diagnostics is somewhat remarkable, given that we have access to: (i) one of the most widely used biomarkers in oncology (PSA), (ii) a readily accessible organ to examine (DRE), (iii) state of the art imaging (MRI, positron emission tomography), (iv) specialty biopsy systems (fusion/transperineal template), (v) enhanced risk stratification systems (National Comprehensive Cancer Network [NCCN], Cancer of the Prostate Risk Assessment [CAPRA], etc.), (vi) numerous nomograms, (vii) secondary urine/serum biomarkers (Prostate Health Index [PHI], prostate cancer antigen 3 [PCA3], SelectMDx, ExoDx, four‐kallikrein panel [4K]), and (viii) commercially available genomic platforms (Prolaris, OncotypeDx, Decipher).

The paper by Connell et al. [1] in this issue of BJUI asks you to consider adding another diagnostic test to your list. You might correctly assume from the title that the test is in discovery/validation stages, and lacks a fancy commercialised name. Many steps await any promising biomarker to make it to your clinic. So why pay attention to this one? Let me reiterate a few points made by the authors and suggest where new paradigms might emerge if the test delivers on its promises.

First, the test crosses over the current barriers between screening patients and active surveillance (AS). In both populations we care about Gleason Grade Group ≥2. Yet a SelectMDx or similar tests are validated for diagnosis but not for monitoring Grade Group 1 on AS. Genomic profiling tests have strong validation and prognostic value for AS, but require tissue and external laboratory work flows. This marker is being tested for both settings, with potentially meaningful distinctions for both patient groups.

Second, this test is in the urine and does not need imaging or needles to obtain samples. It may have serial use (if cost‐effective) for monitoring AS.

Third, for AS cohorts, the test seems to be able to identify progression well in advance. This would potentially allow for early intervention in the correct patients, and less intense monitoring in the remaining.

Fourth, the test metrics looked favourable in PSA screened and unscreened populations; will we ever see a novel biomarker bold enough to move to primary/independent screening status?

Fifth, some of the secondary biomarkers you may be using now are included in this model: PCA3, transmembrane protease serine 2:v‑ets erythroblastosis virus E26 oncogene homolog (TMPRSS2‐ERG), Homeobox C6 (HOXC6).

To be critical, this biomarker will need significant validation in other cohorts, and we can always hope for head‐to‐head data with existing strategies. I will remain optimistic these authors can move this biomarker strategy along and help bridge some of the gaps that remain in disease detection and risk stratification. I may even attempt to insert some of those lovely new equations in the methods section into future lectures.

Reference

  1. Connell SPYazbek‐Hanna MMcCarthy F et al. A four‐group urine risk classifier for predicting outcomes in patients with prostate cancer. BJU Int 2019124609– 20

Editorial: Does Dr Google give good advice about prostate cancer?

In this issue of BJUI, Rezaee et al. [1] report on Google trends as a barometer of public interest in PSA screening and different types of prostate cancer treatment in the USA. Not surprisingly, they found a decrease in Google searches about PSA screening after the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a Grade D recommendation against screening. This corresponds with observed trends of decreased PSA screening in the population [2]. Notably, the volume of Google searches about PSA screening rebounded after the USPSTF changed to a Grade C recommendation for shared decision-making about screening. It is unknown whether this actually reflects a greater number of men discussing PSA screening with their doctors, or whether online information had an impact on their decisions.

Meanwhile, the quantity of Google search activity varied between different types of prostate cancer treatment. In the USA, search volume was higher for surgery than for active surveillance, and there was a greater search volume for high intensity focused ultrasonography (HIFU) than for external beam radiation therapy or brachytherapy. Notably, another recent study examined global Google trends in searches on prostate cancer treatment, showing increasing annual relative search volume for focal therapy and active surveillance over time [3]. The underlying reasons for these temporal and geographic differences in ‘public interest’ may be multifactorial, including recommendations from physicians and professional societies, support from policy-makers, public awareness campaigns from healthcare-related organizations and marketing from commercial companies. Whether the change in ‘public interest’ had any impact on treatment selection remains unknown.

As an increasing number of people are going online for health information, digital platforms provide useful barometers for public interest in different topics. For example, another recent study reported that prostate cancer was a topic with high public interest based on the number of video views on YouTube compared to other urological conditions [4]. While interesting, the number of Google searches or views on YouTube do not provide any insights into who is searching for the information, their motivation, and the quality of information that they received.

Concerningly, several recent studies have called into question the accuracy of information about prostate cancer across multiple online platforms. Asafu-Adjei et al. [5] reported that websites on HIFU and cryotherapy had a substantial amount of incomplete or inaccurate information. Alsyouf et al. [6] reported that seven of the 10 most commonly shared articles about prostate cancer on social media were inaccurate or misleading. Finally, our group reported that 77% of the first 150 YouTube videos about prostate cancer had potentially misinformative and/or biased content in the video itself or the comments underneath [7]. Alarmingly, the quality of information was inversely correlated with the number of views. More research is needed to evaluate the impact of exposure to online misinformation on prostate cancer screening and treatment.

Overall, the online environment holds great promise and also great peril in prostate cancer. On one hand, digital networks have opened up new opportunities for global scientific exchange and have the potential to greatly improve patient care. Conversely, there is a substantial amount of misinformation on the internet, and the potential for a negative impact on patients and their families. As a urological community, we should be pro-active about directing our patients to trustworthy online resources, and should actively participate in digital networks to help share high-quality information with the public. More strategic effort should also be made to maximize the degree of reach and engagement upon dissemination of high-quality information.

by Stacy Loeb, Nataliya Byrne and Jeremy Teoh

References

  1. Rezaee ME, Goddard B, Sverrisson EF, Seigne JD, Dagrosa LM. ‘Dr Google’: trends in online interest in prostate cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment. BJU Int 2019; 124: 629–34
  2. Magnani CJ, Li K, Seto T et al. PSA Testing Use and Prostate Cancer Diagnostic Stage After the 2012 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Guideline Changes. JNCCN 2019; 17: 795–803
  3. Cacciamani GE, Bassi S, Sebben M et al. Consulting “Dr. Google” for prostate cancer treatment options. A contemporary worldwide trend analysis. Eur Urol Oncol 2019; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euo.2019.07.002
  4. Borgmann H, Salem J, Baunacke M et al. Mapping the landscape of urology: a new media-based cross-sectional analysis of public versus academic interest. Int J Urol 2018; 25: 421–8
  5. Asafu-Adjei D, Mikkilineni N, Sebesta E, Hyams E. Misinformation on the Internet regarding Ablative Therapies for Prostate Cancer. Urology 2019; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.urology.2018.12.050
  6. Alsyouf M, Stokes P, Hur D, Amasyali A, Ruckle H, Hu B. ‘Fake News’ in urology: evaluating the accuracy of articles shared on social media in genitourinary malignancies. BJU Int 2019; 124: 701–6
  7. Loeb S, Sengupta S, Butaney M et al. Dissemination of Misinformative and Biased Information about Prostate Cancer on YouTube. Eur Urol 2019; 27: 564–7

 

Editorial: Machines in urology: a brief odyssey of the future

Artificial intelligence (AI) will bring in a new wave of changes in the medical field, likely altering how we practice medicine. In a timely contribution, Chen et al. [1] outline the current landscape of AI and provide us with a glimpse of the future, in which sophisticated computers and algorithms play a front-and-centre role in the daily hospital routine.

Widespread adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs), an ever-increasing amount of radiographic imaging, and the ubiquity of genome sequencing, among other factors, have created an impossibly large body of medical data. This poses obvious challenges for clinicians to remain abreast of new discoveries, but also presents new opportunities for scientific discovery. AI is the inevitable and much-needed tool with which to harness the ‘big data’ of medicine.

Currently, the most immediate and important application of AI appears to be in the field of diagnostics and radiology. In prostate cancer, for example, machine learning algorithms (MLAs) are not only able to automate radiographic detection of prostate cancer but have also been shown to improve diagnostic accuracy compared to standard clinical scoring schemes. MLAs can use clinicopathological data to predict clinically significant prostate cancer and disease recurrence
with a high degree of accuracy. The same has been shown for other urological malignancies, including urothelial cancer and RCC. Implementation of MLAs will lead to improved accuracy and reproducibility, reducing human bias and variability. We also predict that as natural language processing becomes more sophisticated, the troves of nonstructured data that exist in EMRs will be harnessed to deliver improved and more personalized patient care. Patient data and clinical outcomes can be analysed in short time, drawing from a deep body of knowledge, and leading to rapid insights that can guide medical decision-making.

Current AI technology, however, remains experimental and we are still far from the widespread implementation of AI within clinical medicine. A valid criticism of today’s AI is that it functions in the setting of a ‘black box’; the rules that govern the clinical decision-making of an algorithm are often poorly understood or unknowable. We cannot become operators of machines for which we know not how they work, to do so would be to practice medicine blindly.

Another barrier to incorporating AI into common practice is the level of noise in healthcare data. MLAs will use whatever data that are fed to the algorithm, thus running the risk of producing predicative models that include nonsensical variables gleaned from the noise. This concept is similar to multiple hypothesis-testing, where if you feed enough random information into a model, a pattern might emerge. Furthermore, none of the studies described by Chen et al. have been externally validated on large, representative datasets of diverse patients. MLAs trained on a narrow patient population run the risk of creating predictions that
are not generalizable. This problem has already been popularized within genome analysis, where one study found that 81% of all genome-wide studies were taken from individuals of European ancestry [2]. It is easy to imagine situations where risk score calculators or biomarkers are validated using non-representative datasets, leading to less accurate and even inappropriate treatment decisions for underrepresented patient populations. At best, MLAs that are not validated using stringent principles can lead to erroneous disease models. At worst, they can bias the delivery of healthcare to patients, leading to worse patient outcomes and exacerbation of healthcare disparities.

Chen et al. write of the possibility of AI in urology today. What about the future? Imagine a world in which computers with a robotic interface see patients in clinics, design and carry out complex medical treatment plans, and perform surgery without the aid of a human hand. This future may not be far off [3]. Or, even stranger, consider a world in which generalizable AI exists. Estimates of the dawn of this technology range, however the most optimistic projections put the timeline on the order of 20–30 years. Not far behind could be the ‘singularity’, a moment when technological advancement occurs at such an exponential rate that improbable scientific discoveries happen almost instantaneously, setting off a feed-forward cycle leading to an inconceivable superintelligence.

The future is, of course, hard to predict. Nevertheless, AI and the ensuing technology will certainly transform the practice of urology, albeit not without significant challenges and growing pains along the way. The urologist of the future may look very different indeed.

by Stephen W. Reese, Emily Ji, Aliya Sahraoui and Quoc-Dien Trinh

 

References

  1. Chen J, Remulla D, Nguyen JH et al. Current status of artificial intelligence applications in Urology and its potential to influence clinical practice. BJU Int 2019; 124: 567–77
  2. Popejoy AB, Fullerton SM. Genomics is failing on diversity. Nature 2016; 538: 161–4
  3. Grace K, Salvatier J, Dafoe A, Zhang B, Evans O. When Will AI Exceed Human Performance? Evidence from AI Experts, 2017

 

Editorial: Non‐invasive diagnosis and monitoring of urothelial bladder cancer: are we there yet?

In this issue of BJUI, Ward et al. [1] describe the development of DNA‐based urinary biomarkers for urothelial carcinoma (UC). The genomics of UC have been well characterized through interrogation of tumour issues in institutional series (e.g. the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center [MSKCC] experience), multi‐institutional collaborations (e.g. The Cancer Genome Atlas [TCGA]) and commercial platforms (e.g. the Foundation Medicine experience) [2]. Until recently, these have been largely academic pursuits, with possible impact on prognostication but limited clinical applicability and utility for therapy selection and monitoring of response; however, with the US Food and Drug Administration approval of erdafitinib several weeks ago, patients with advanced UC will routinely receive genomic assessment for FGFR2/3 mutation or fusion, the targets for this therapy [3]. In due time, it is anticipated that multiple other putative targets with associated therapies (e.g. ERBB2, CDKN2A), as well as potential predictive biomarkers, may also warrant testing.

The evolving landscape in advanced UC makes a non‐invasive biomarker particularly attractive. The authors of the present commentary have previously reported results from a series of 369 patients with advanced UC, demonstrating that genomic alterations in ctDNA could be identified in 91% of patients using a commercially available 73-gene panel [4]. More recently, Christensen et al. [5] assessed a cohort of 68 patients receiving neoadjuvant chemotherapy for muscle‐invasive disease, demonstrating 100% sensitivity and 98% specificity for the detection of relapsed disease with a patient‐specific ctDNA assessment (sequenced to a median target coverage of 105 000×) after cystectomy. Impressively, the data also showed that the dynamics of ctDNA appeared to be more useful than pathological downstaging in predicting relapse.

In contrast to these studies, Ward et al. have developed a 23‐gene panel based on frequently expressed genes in a cohort of 916 UC tissue specimens, largely derived from patients with non‐muscle‐invasive disease. Ultimately, with a cohort of 314 patients with DNA derived from a urinary cell pellet, sequencing identified 645 (71.4%) of 903 mutations detected in tumour. Using urinary supernatant, 353 (80.7%) of 437 mutations were detected. These relatively high sensitivities, if they can be interpreted as such, are promising but do not rise to the level of replacing existing strategies for UC detection, staging and monitoring. Notably, another study demonstrated that urinary ctDNA can be detected with high sensitivity and specificity in patients with localized early‐stage bladder cancer and for after‐treatment surveillance, providing the foundation for further studies evaluating the role of ctDNA in non‐invasive detection, genotyping and monitoring [6].

Beyond its use as a diagnostic tool, it is hoped that urinary ctDNA may also find applications in the selection of therapeutics. To this end, Ward et al. identified FGFR3, PIK3CA, ERCC2 and ERBB2 mutations in 45%, 32%, 14% and 7% of patients, respectively. The frequency of FGFR3 alteration decreased with increasing stage and grade, ranging from 72% in pTaG1 disease to just 13% in ≥pT2 disease, consistent with other reports [7]. These results may guide forthcoming studies evaluating FGFR inhibitors in non‐muscle‐invasive, muscle‐invasive and metastatic disease, where studies are ongoing. In reviewing the potential link between genomic alterations and clinical outcomes, perhaps the most curious finding is that between RAS mutations and improved overall survival (P = 0.04), the only such association found in multivariate analysis. These results stand in sharp contrast to reports in lung cancer, colorectal cancer and multiple other tumour types [8]. A closer look at the deleterious nature and functional impact of NRAS and KRAS mutations seen in this series is certainly warranted, along with further external validation in a more homogenous and larger patient population. There is also the potential application of monitoring treatment response by assessing eradication of urinary ctDNA, a hypothesis that is being evaluated in ongoing studies [9].

How will the results of this and other emerging urinary biomarker studies eventually make their way to the clinic? The answer is simple: incorporation of these biomarkers in prospective therapeutic trials. As the bladder cancer investigative community formulates novel trials for non‐muscle‐invasive and muscle‐invasive disease using targeted therapies, an excellent opportunity exists to correlate urinary, blood and tissue‐based biomarkers and to assess their relative predictive capabilities and clinical utility. Furthermore, with clinical surrogate endpoints likely to drive regulatory approval (e.g. landmark complete response rates for non‐muscle‐invasive disease, or pT0N0 rate for muscle‐invasive disease), a validated urinary biomarker could ultimately offer an alternative biological surrogate endpoint [10]. In an era of genomic revolution, prospective validation can help establish the potential clinical utility of promising biomarkers and help realize the dream of ‘precision oncology’.

by Rohit K. Jain, Petros Grivas and Sumanta K. Pal

References

  1. Ward DGGordon NSBoucher RH et al. Targeted deep sequencing of urothelial bladder cancers and associated urinary DNA: a 23‐gene panel with utility for non‐invasive diagnosis and risk stratification. BJU Int 2019
  2. Schiff JPBarata PCYu EYGrivas PPrecision therapy in advanced urothelial cancer. Expert Rev Precis Med Drug Dev 2019481– 93
  3. FDA grants accelerated approval to erdafitinib for metastatic urothelial carcinoma [press release] 2019.
  4. Agarwal NPal SKHahn AW et al. Characterization of metastatic urothelial carcinoma via comprehensive genomic profiling of circulating tumor DNA. Cancer 20181242115– 24
  5. Christensen EBirkenkamp‐Demtroder KSethi H et al. Early detection of metastatic relapse and monitoring of therapeutic efficacy by ultra‐deep sequencing of plasma cell‐free DNA in patients with urothelial bladder carcinoma. J Clin Oncol 2019371547– 57
  6. Dudley JCSchroers‐Martin JLazzareschi DV et al. Detection and surveillance of bladder cancer using urine tumor DNA. Cancer Discov 20199500– 9
  7. Tomlinson DCBaldo OHarnden PKnowles MAFGFR3 protein expression and its relationship to mutation status and prognostic variables in bladder cancer. J Pathol 200721391– 8
  8. Zhuang RLi SLi Q et al. The prognostic value of KRAS mutation by cell‐free DNA in cancer patients: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. PLoS One 201712e0182562
  9. Abbosh PHPlimack ERMolecular and clinical insights into the role and significance of mutated DNA repair genes in bladder cancer. Bladder Cancer 201849– 18
  10. Jarow JPLerner SPKluetz PG et al. Clinical trial design for the development of new therapies for nonmuscle‐invasive bladder cancer: report of a Food and Drug Administration and American Urological Association public workshop. Urology 201483262– 4

 

 

Editorial: Testicular cancer outcome inequality: a curable disease?

Inequalities in cancer survival exist across cities, countries and global regions [1]. Testicular cancer provides a particularly stark example. It has extremely high survival rates, but cure is strongly dependent upon prompt diagnosis. In turn, that depends on reliable access to high‐quality healthcare [23].

In this issue of BJUI, Pishgar et al. [4] report a richly detailed analysis of international variations in testicular cancer mortality. Using data from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease study (GBD), they examine variation in incidence and outcomes from testicular cancer, including impact on disability‐adjusted life years (DALYs) and mortality, across 21 regions and 195 countries, since the GBD started in 1990.

Testicular cancer incidence increased globally between 1990 and 2016. This may reflect underlying, environmentally determined birth cohort effects, improving identification of underlying disease burden, or both [5]. Notably, increases do not appear to have been shared evenly between countries, or across different social sociodemographic index (SDI) quintiles; the age‐standardised incidence rate actually decreased in the low and low–middle SDI quintiles, but increased in high, high–middle and middle SDI quintiles. However, evidence of a link between access to healthcare and incidence of testicular cancer is lacking.

More strikingly, the authors conclude that although testicular cancer survival globally is improving, disparities between countries remain entrenched. In fact, a countervailing increase in mortality in some developing countries over the study period suggests a major task ahead for those healthcare systems.

Testicular cancer does not have a screening test. Early diagnosis and optimal outcome generally relies upon self‐examination; prompt referral to a urology service for initial surgical management; and early involvement of a wider multidisciplinary team, including a specialist oncologist; in accordance with international guidelines. Accordingly, disparities in testicular cancer outcomes may be attributable to variations in one or more of the following:

  • Education and health literacy
  • Health insurance cover, equivalent ability to pay ‘out of pocket’ (OOP) charges. With the health insurance coverage, cover your family to protect them from costly final expenses by getting a final expense insurance or burial insurance from insuranceforfinalexpense.com.
  • Access to both primary care and specialty services
  • Availability of key resources (e.g., platinum‐based chemotherapy)
  • Adherence to best practice guidelines

Access to healthcare and protection of individuals from OOP costs may predominate amongst all of these factors. In countries with partial or total OOP funding, the early diagnosis of cancer risks being seen, not as an opportunity to avert the development of life‐threatening disease, but as a financial decision with significant personal and family implications [6]. Encouraging proactive health‐seeking behaviours is challenging in the setting of universal health coverage; much more so in the context of such basic conflicts. The likely effects of these conflicts are observable in developed and developing countries alike, as long as OOP costs remain a fact of life for significant numbers of citizens [23].

The Pishgar et al. [4] study, and the GBD more widely, are subject to some basic methodological limitations inherent in any international registry‐based analysis. Unmeasured and uncontrolled confounding is inevitable. Variation in outcomes between countries and over time may reflect true variation, or variation in coding practice, quality assurance and accuracy.

More fundamentally, quantitative analysis is limited to identifying, rather than explaining international trends in cancer outcomes. Such trends can then be used to generate hypotheses. Qualitative methods can then be incorporated, generating meaningful insights into different healthcare systems’ relative performances, and testing those hypotheses.

Building on the data reported here, Medicare Advantage 2020 qualitative analysis incorporate insights into better‐performing countries’ strategies for promoting self‐examination, and providing high‐quality, evidence‐based multidisciplinary care, through an appropriately trained specialist workforce, could provide a basis for developing countries to develop their own contextually tailored strategies. Across many developing world contexts, access to platinum‐based chemotherapy remains an essential priority [7].

It is notable that DALYs are incorporated into this high‐level international comparison and encouraging that they are falling globally [4]. Again, combining qualitative analysis with the insights provided by these international and temporal analyses of DALYs could enrich our understanding of the interaction between approaches to testicular cancer care and patient experience. For example, Pishgar et al. [4] report that Kiribati, Chile, and Argentina had the highest testicular cancer‐specific age‐standardised DALY rates. Focussed qualitative research in these countries, possibly incorporating comparisons with higher performing settings, could facilitate targeted improvements to patient care and experience. As more countries achieve the highest cure rates for testicular cancer, patient experience will assume increasing importance as a measure of care quality in this disease.

Analyses like this have the potential to provoke important conversations and to generate hypotheses in specialist clinical and health policy research. As clinicians, researchers and policy‐makers, this study should encourage us to think critically about the policy context in which we see testicular cancer, the reasons patients might present late, and how equity of outcome might be achieved both within and beyond our own immediate surroundings. Pishgar et al. [4] invaluably remind us that we remain some way off being able to call testicular cancer a curable disease for all patients, in all settings.

References

  1. Global Cancer Observatory (GLOBOCAN). Available at: https://gco.iarc.fr. Accessed June 2019.
  2. Markt SCLago‐Hernandez CAMiller RE et al. Insurance status and disparities in disease presentation, treatment, and outcomes for men with germ cell tumors. Cancer 20161223127– 35
  3. Withington JCole AP, Meyer CP et alComparison of testis cancer‐specific survival: an analysis of national cancer registry data from the USA, UK and Germany. BJU Int 2019123385– 7
  4. Pishgar FHaj‐Mirzaian AEbrahimi H et al. Global, regional, and national burden of testicular cancer, 1990–2016: results from the global burden of disease study 2016. BJU Int 2019124386– 94
  5. Shanmugalingam TSoultati AChowdhury S, Rudman S, Van Hemelrijck M. Global incidence and outcome of testicular cancer. Clin Epidemiol 20135417– 27
  6. Rajpal SKumar AJoe WEconomic burden of cancer in India: evidence from cross‐sectional nationally representative household survey, 2014. PLoS One 201813e0193320.
  7. Lancet Global Health. Lifting the veil on cancer treatment. Lancet 2019; 7: PE281. DOI: 10.1016/ S2214‐109X(19)30014‐2

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