Neuroendocrine Prostate Cancer: Subtypes, Biology, and Clinical Outcomes

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Neuroendocrine prostate cancer (NEPC) encompasses various clinical contexts, ranging from the de novo presentation of small cell prostatic carcinoma to a treatment-emergent transformed phenotype that arises from typical adenocarcinoma of the prostate. The development of resistance to potent androgen receptor signaling inhibition may be associated with the emergence of aggressive phenotype, advanced castration-resistant NEPC. Clinically, small cell prostate cancer and NEPC are often manifested by the presence of visceral or large soft tissue metastatic disease, a disproportionately low serum prostate-specific antigen level relative to the overall burden of disease, and a limited response to targeting of the androgen signaling axis. These tumors are often characterized by loss of androgen receptor expression, loss of retinoblastoma tumor suppressor copy number or expression, amplification of Aurora kinase A and N-Myc, and activation of the PI3K pathway. However, a consensus phenotype-genotype definition of NEPC has yet to emerge, and molecularly based biomarkers are needed to expand on traditional morphologic and immunohistochemical markers of NEPC to fully define the spectrum of this aggressive, androgen receptor-independent disease. Emerging studies implicate a shared clonal origin with prostatic adenocarcinoma in many cases, with the adaptive emergence of unique cellular programming and gene expression profiles. Ongoing clinical studies are focused on developing novel targeted therapeutic approaches for this high-risk, lethal subset of disease, to improve on the limited durations of response often observed with traditional platinum-based chemotherapy.

Correspondence: Rahul Aggarwal, MD, Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1600 Divisadero Street, Box 1711, San Francisco, CA 94143. E-mail: rahul.aggarwal@ucsf.edu
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