Research funded by Prostate Cancer UK identifies a new combination of genes that could pick out men at highest risk of developing prostate cancer, and spot those whose cancer is likely to be more aggressive.

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27 Apr 2019

New research, funded in part by Prostate Cancer UK, has shed new light on the family risk associated with prostate cancer.

Using large-scale genetic analysis, the research team based at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, identified a combination of genes linked to a higher risk of developing prostate cancer and aggressive forms of the disease. With further validation, this research could contribute to future tests to identify and monitor men, and increase the chance of catching the disease early.

The genes in the panel could also help to identify tailored treatment options based on the genetics of men already diagnosed with prostate cancer.

"Understanding how a man’s genes affect his risk of getting aggressive prostate cancer could play a crucial role in reducing the number of deaths from this disease. That’s why we funded Professor Eeles and her team to explore this area and are delighted to see the results of this research," said Dr Matthew Hobbs, Deputy Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK.

"Now that we have this list of genetic red flags the next challenge is to determine if they can be used to identify men who need to be tested for prostate cancer earlier and more often, and if they can help us identify the best treatment path for a man to take once he is diagnosed. That work can only be achieved with funding for further research and we look forward to building on these results to catch more prostate cancers early and save more lives."

Largest study of its kind

To develop the gene panel, Professor Ros Eeles and her team analysed small variations in 175 DNA repair genes, a group of genes known to be involved in prostate cancer risk and aggressiveness. Individually, these genes have a minor effect on a man’s prostate cancer risk, and are not likely to account for all of the family risk of prostate cancer, but the team found that changes in a number of these genes could add up to give an increased risk of the disease.

The team compared the frequency of these mutations in 1,200 men with young-onset prostate cancer, where genetics are likely to be important, and 1,100 healthy men, making it the largest study of its kind.

In total, they identified 23 genes associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer, aggressive disease, or both. Of these, 17 had never before been linked to prostate cancer risk or aggressiveness.

Building on our previous work

The research is a promising step in getting to grips with the genetic basis of prostate cancer. However further research is needed before we can see how useful the genetic panel could be as part of a future test that could be used widely in the clinic.

The study feeds into work funded by Prostate Cancer UK, including previous studies led by Professor Eeles and other research that is helping to build a fuller picture of the role of genetics in predicting prostate cancer risk. This is to ultimately bring us closer to our goal of a screening programme so that more men’s prostate cancers can be caught as early as possible.

Help support our research into prostate cancer genetics, to give men more accurate and early diagnosis of prostate cancer by donating now.

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