CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and is the second most common cause of cancer death.
Despite good treatments, the cancer comes back in up to one-third of all cases. When that happens, popular pain medicines may be a powerful weapon again this cancer killer.
Worries about prostate cancer are always on Mike Denson's mind. He was diagnosed three years ago with the same disease that killed his father.
"He lasted 18 months from the day he was diagnosed to the day we buried him," Denson said.
Although his treatments were successful, tests suggest Denson's cancer is back.
Dr. Raj Pruthi says PSA blood tests are the best tool for early diagnosis of cancer recurrence.
"It can detect a recurrence seven to eight years before any other means we have," he said.
The problem is there are no treatments when a recurrence is caught this early.
"The treatment we have, or the standard, is to do nothing and just watch their cancer progress," Pruthi said.
That could soon change. A recent University of North Carolina study suggests pain relievers may help fight prostate cancer.
It involves COX-2 inhibitors, specifically the drugs Celebrex and Vioxx. Studies show the drugs fight inflammation and tumor growth.
Pruthi, the leader of the study, believes Celebrex and Vioxx may buy prostate cancer patients more time.
"The hope is delaying that seven to eight years -- maybe making it either 12, 15 or further," he said.
Denson was one of the first patients enrolled in the study. He does not expect a cure, but he does believe the pills are adding years to his life.
"They're buying me years and I'm very grateful for that," Denson said.
More studies are under way to verify the benefits of using the drugs on prostate cancer.
Pruthi also wants to see how long the benefits last and if men at high risk of developing prostate cancer benefit, too.
It is still early, but researchers think COX-2 inhibitors may be a powerful weapon against colon, breast and lung cancers.