Adding hormone therapy to radiation therapy for prostate cancer that has spread to tissues near the prostate gland, but has not yet spread to distant sites in the body, can help prevent the disease from returning and improve survival, according to a report in the journal Cancer.

Hormone therapy involves the use of drugs such as leuoprolide (Lupron) or surgery (removal of the testicles) to reduce body levels of testosterone or to block its effects. This is beneficial because testosterone can stimulate prostate cancer growth.

The results also indicate that the added hormone therapy does not increase side effects, Dr. Emilio Bria, from Regina Elena National Cancer Institute in Rome, and co-researchers note.

The findings stem from an analysis of data from seven trials featuring a total of 4387 patients.

The use of hormone therapy in combination with radiation therapy improved overall survival by about 5 percent, meaning that an additional life was saved for every 18 patients treated with the combination.

Treatment with hormone therapy reduced the risks of nearby and distant cancer relapse by 36 and 28 percent, respectively.

As noted, hormone therapy plus radiotherapy caused no more side effects than did radiotherapy alone.

"Although the results of the current study confirm and quantify the benefit of adding hormone (therapy) to exclusive radiotherapy for patients with locally advanced prostate cancer, a 'road map' to identify which patients really benefit from such a strategy and what is the optimal duration of treatment needs to be drawn," the authors state. Genetic testing, they add, may help in this regard.