Research scientists at Ulster University have discovered a “hugely significant” new treatment for prostate cancer.

The breakthrough, described by the scientists as a “world first,” could effectively prevent tumor growth, spread and patient relapse.

Researcher found that that by combining an existing hormone therapy, known as androgen deprivation, with a new drug called OCT1002 can improve treatment effectiveness, The Irish Times reports.

Dr Declan McKenna, who led the research, said that the treatment works by targeting more resistant cancer cells and preventing malignancy and the spread of the disease.

“The new research builds upon Ulster University’s discovery earlier this year that low oxygen levels in prostate cancer tumors are responsible for triggering genetic changes.

“Those changes accelerate the growth of new cancer cells and can cause patients to relapse within two years of starting the traditional hormone therapy treatment,” said Dr McKenna.

“This new discovery is hugely significant. Hormone therapy is an effective treatment but its success with more resistant cancer cells is limited.

“By combining hormone therapy with this new drug, we have for the first time discovered a way to destroy these resistant cells that may otherwise lead to relapse or the spread of cancer cells,” he said.

“Our next step is to consider a move to clinical trials so we can focus on testing this combined therapy and ultimately develop tailored treatments for individual prostate cancer patients globally.”

Although the five-year survival rate for the disease is just under 90 percent, for men diagnosed with advanced stage four cancer, that rate drops to 22 percent.

Prostate Cancer UK helped to fund the the three-year study through a £213,000 (about €238,000) grant from the Movember Foundation.

Dr Matthew Hobbs, Prostate Cancer UK’s deputy director of research, said that hormone therapy can be an effective treatment for men living with advanced prostate cancer.

“It can help to keep the disease at bay and many men continue to lead a good quality of life for many years.

“However, after time it stops working and men are left with just a handful of further treatment options,” he said.

“Although it’s still early days, this drug may offer a completely new way to treat prostate cancer, increasing the amount of time that hormone therapy works for and potentially giving men precious extra time with their loved ones.”

Every year, about 1,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, which is the most common cancer among men in Northern Ireland.