Genetic changes that cause prostate cancer 'develop in periodic bursts'

In collaboration with the Press Association

The genetic changes that lead to prostate cancer seem to develop in sudden bursts rather than gradually over time, according to new international research.

The traditional view is that genetic changes typically happen steadily, eventually overwhelming the ability of a cell to control its own growth.

But researchers writing in the journal Cell found these changes appear to occur in spurts, with complex, large-scale reshuffling of DNA and driving the development of prostate cancer.

The process was dubbed "punctuated cancer evolution," in a nod to the theory of evolution, which states that changes in a species occur in abrupt shifts.

The international study was led by scientists from Weill Cornell Medical College, the Broad Institute, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the University of Trento in Italy.

The researchers named these periodic disruptions "chromoplexy."

"Our findings represent a new way to think about cancer genomics as well as treatment in prostate and, potentially, other cancers," said the study's co-lead investigator Dr Mark Rubin, of Weill Cornell Medical College.

Researchers sequenced the entire genomes of prostate tumours from 57 patients, selected to encompass a wide range of different stages and grades of the disease.

They then used complex computer techniques to map the genetic landscape of the disease as it changed over time.

Dr Francesca Demichelis, assistant professor at the University of Trento, said: "Information about what alterations are common, and which aren't, will most likely help guide us in terms of cancer drug use and patient response."

Future targeted cancer therapy could work by targeting complex sets of genetic mutations and rearrangements in each patient, the researchers said.

Professor Ros Eeles, a Cancer Research UK scientist from The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden, said: "These results show that prostate cancer cells have showers of genetic changes as they develop. This paper provides further evidence that we need to identify clinically significant disease early and target the genetic changes driving cancer development."

Copyright Press Association 2013


  • Baca S., Prandi D., Lawrence M., Mosquera J., Romanel A., Drier Y., Park K., Kitabayashi N., MacDonald T. & Ghandi M. & (2013). Punctuated Evolution of Prostate Cancer Genomes, Cell, 153 (3) 666-677. DOI: