Study looks for prostate cancer cure

Carson City resident Carlo Velasquez is one of 33 Northern Nevada men involved in a study to help find a cure for prostate cancer.

The study is trying to determine if daily doses of selenium and/or vitamin E can prevent or diminish this very prevalent form, as well as other cancers.

"I've lived in Northern Nevada for 43 years, and I've known men who have contracted prostate cancer. A couple of them have died," Velasquez said. "We need more men in the study and more attention brought to this disease."

One man in six will get prostate cancer during his lifetime, and it is second only to lung cancer in terms of male deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

The study, which has enlisted more than 32,000 volunteers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, began in July 2001.

"Alternative literature has stated that selenium and vitamin E help reduce prostate cancer risk," said Jeannine Moore, cancer protocol nurse at Washoe Medical Center. "We need to find out if that's true."

Volunteers are divided into four groups: one taking both supplements, one taking just vitamin E, one taking only selenium, and the control group, which is taking a placebo.

"Because we're dealing with vitamins and minerals, the study needs to be done over a period of time," Moore said. "That's why it will last from seven to 12 years."

The research will conclude seven years after the last person signs up, probably by the end of this year. In addition to 33 Northern Nevadans, more than 100 men in Southern Nevada have volunteered for the study. That's not enough, Moore said.

"If we can get men at risk into the study, we will be able to get answers to everyone," she said. "I would like to see at least 50 volunteers in Northern Nevada, and the sooner the better."

Early results could be forthcoming as soon as the first volunteers complete their treatment in a couple of years, she said.

Velasquez does not have prostate cancer, just one of the criteria for being involved in this study. He said this is not a high-profile disease because once diagnosed, most men are embarrassed about their condition.

"People are putting their heads in the sand, but the more they get the facts slammed in their face, the more likely they are to get checked," Velasquez said. "I'd feel good if, through this interview, I persuade 10 guys to get checked."

Screening for prostate cancer involves a blood test known as prostatic-specific antigen, or PSA, in addition to a digital rectal exam, Moore said.

The screening regimen has virtually eliminated tumors that can migrate to other parts of the body, but there is no solid evidence the screens have lowered the number who die from the disease.

"Prevention is always more important than treatment - a whole lot better than trying to heal patients," Moore said. "It's like a stitch in time."

The study is being conducted by the Southwest Oncology Group, which has been conducting studies concerning adult cancers since 1956. The effort is funded by the National Cancer Institute. Moore is organizing the local effort, which is overseen by Washoe Medical Center's Institutional Review Board.

For information or to volunteer for the study, call Moore at (775) 982-5050.

Contact Susie Vasquez at or 881-1212.


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