Researchers have recently revealed results that could lead to new treatments and targeted screening of men with a greater risk of developing prostate cancer.
Research funded by Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust revealed 80 regions of a genome (the DNA, or genetic material, that makes us who we are) which increase the risk of developing breast, prostate and ovarian cancer.
DNA is a bit like computer code, and is written in a language that contains four letters representing its building blocks: A (adenine), T (Thymine), C (Cytosine) and G (Guanine). These blocks connect together in pairs, such as A-T and C-G, and the sequences they create define everything from eye colour to how tall we are. Sometimes these pairs change unexpectedly, for example A-T becomes A-G. These changes are known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and they're linked to an increased risk of developing cancer.
Scientists in this research project studied the DNA of over 100,000 people with cancer and 100,000 people (from the general population) without cancer. They were looking for SNPs that occur more often in people with cancer. One SNP increases the risk of developing cancer slightly, but multiple SNPs increase the risk dramatically.
In prostate cancer, 23 SNPs were found, taking the total known to 78. Sixteen of these were linked to the more aggressive and life-threatening form of the disease. Men with multiple SNPs in their genes could see the risk of developing prostate cancer increase to nearly 50 per cent. Creating a test that could screen men for high levels of these SNPs could identify those who would benefit from regular screening.
"We welcome this latest development" said Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK. "We are now a step closer to being able to develop a reliable test to predict men's risk of this disease, which is rising at an alarming rate. This research substantially adds to our knowledge of the role of testing genes in men's risk of developing prostate cancer, and importantly if the cancer is likely to be aggressive or not.
"However, the reality is that whilst this is a significant step forward, we are still a long way off finding a more effective routine diagnostic test which could be used for a national screening programme in the UK. We look forward to the seeing the next step towards improving early and accurate diagnosis of prostate cancer and funding further ground breaking research ourselves."
A further and more recent study focussing on genetics has linked a particular faulty gene called BRCA2 with aggressive prostate cancer. You can read more about this latest news and see our Chief Executive Owen Sharp's response to learn more.