Gene test could help spot men at high risk of prostate cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association
Prostate cancer cell

Screening men with a family history of prostate cancer for a range of gene defects could be used to identify those at risk of developing prostate cancer and more aggressive forms of the disease, according to UK scientists.

"If these results are confirmed in larger studies, it could make a real difference to the way prostate cancer is treated" - Dr Safia Danovi, Cancer Research UK

Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research tested blood samples from 191 men with prostate cancer and who had multiple close relatives with the disease. They found 14 faults in genes that could be used to predict the development of prostate cancer.

As well as predicting which men are more likely to develop the disease, the scientists found that these same men also develop a more aggressive form.

The research raises the prospect of being able to genetically screen men with a family history of prostate cancer to determine who are more likely to develop the disease – a problem that has vexed scientists for many years.

Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “The minefield of prostate cancer diagnosis is one of the biggest hurdles facing treatment of the disease today. Current tests fail to differentiate between aggressive cancers that could go on to kill, and cancers that may never cause any harm.

“This lack of clarity means that too often men and their doctors are left having to make incredibly difficult decisions on whether to treat the disease or not.” 

The researchers used advanced DNA sequencing techniques to look for errors in the DNA of 22 known cancer genes at the same time – opening up the prospect of rapid genetic screening for prostate cancer for a wide range of genetic faults.

Looking at men with a history of three or more cases of prostate cancer in their close family, the researchers found 14 genetic changes that were linked to the development of the disease.

Men with any of these 14 mutations were much more likely than those without to develop an aggressive form of cancer that spreads to other parts of the body, and to die from the disease.

Dr Safia Danovi, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “This research will help us identify men most at risk of prostate cancer and shows they’re more likely to develop aggressive forms of the disease.”

She said such information could give prostate patients the opportunity to understand their risk and monitor early signs of the disease.

And once the results are confirmed in larger studies, it may also help doctors target intensive treatment to patients who really need it, she added.

Professor Ros Eeles, an author on the study and Professor of Oncogenics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Honorary Consultant at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our study shows the potential benefit of putting prostate cancer on a par with cancers such as breast cancer when it comes to genetic testing.

The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, was mainly funded by Prostate Cancer UK with additional support from Cancer Research UK. 

Copyright Press Association 2014

References

  • Leongamornlert D., et al. (2014). Frequent germline deleterious mutations in DNA repair genes in familial prostate cancer cases are associated with advanced disease, British Journal of Cancer, DOI: