Purpose: To study the significance, in terms of overall and cause-specific survival, of biochemical failure after conformal external-beam radiation therapy (RT) for prostate cancer.
Methods and materials: Of the 1844 patients in the Radiation Oncology prostate cancer database, 718 were deemed eligible. Patients excluded were those with N1 or M1 disease, those treated after radical prostatectomy, those who received hormone therapy before radiation therapy, and those who died, failed clinically, or had no PSA response in the first 6 months after RT. Patients included were required to have a minimum of 2 post-RT PSAs separated by at least 1 week. Biochemical relapse was defined as 3 consecutive PSA rises. This resulted in 154 patients with biochemical failure. Survival was calculated from the third PSA elevation. The rate of rise of PSA was calculated by fitting a regression line to the four rising PSAs on a ln PSA vs. time plot.
Results: There were 41 deaths among the 154 patients with failure in 23 of the 41 due to prostate cancer. The overall survival after failure was 58% at 5 years, while the cause-specific failure was 73% at 5 years. Among the 154 failures, several factors were evaluated for an association with overall survival: age at failure, pre-RT PSA, PSA at second rise, PSA nadir, time from RT to failure, time to nadir, Gleason score, T-stage, and rate of rise, both from the nadir and from the beginning of the rise. None of these factors were significantly associated with an increased risk of death. As expected, the group of patients with biochemical failure have significantly worse prognostic factors than those without biochemical failure: median pre-RT PSA 15.9 vs. 9.0 (p < 0.001), and Gleason score of 7 or greater for 48% of subjects vs. 40% (p = 0.1). Relative PSA rise and slope of ln PSA vs. time were associated with cause-specific mortality (p < 0.001 and p = 0.007, respectively).
Conclusion: Overall survival after conformal radiotherapy for prostate cancer remains high 5 years after biochemical failure. This high survival rate occurs even though the group of patients with biochemical failure has worse than average adverse preradiation prognostic factors. Thus, although biochemical failure can identify patients who have recurrent disease after RT, the ultimate relationship between this endpoint and death remains to be better defined.