Could bacterial infections cause aggressive prostate cancer?

This project aims to identify whether bacterial infections in the urinary tract could in fact cause prostate cancer. If that is the case, timely antibiotic treatments might eventually have potential to prevent the disease.

Preventing prostate cancer is the holy grail for taming the disease. But, before we can hope to prevent prostate cancer, we need to know what actually causes it in the first place. Bacterial infection is known to play a part in the development of other cancers. Recently this research group made a chance discovery that bacteria in the urine was much more common in men with aggressive or advanced prostate cancer than in those men with low risk or no cancer, so now they will explore this further.

Since the researchers obtained these results by chance, they now need to confirm the correlation between the presence of bacteria in the urine after a DRE and diagnosis with high risk or advanced prostate cancer. They’ll also investigate whether any of the 60 strains of bacteria they found in the urine are also present in prostate and prostate cancer tissue as a first step towards seeing if these bacteria might cause the prostate cancer.

The next step will be to investigate those strains of bacteria present in both the urine and prostate cancer samples in more detail. This will help the researchers start to identify a mechanism by which bacterial infection could cause prostate cancer to develop.

On its own this study still may not prove that bacterial infections cause prostate cancer, but the new knowledge that this research will find will still be important. A negative result will show that this avenue isn’t the right one to explore for causal effect. Even if that’s the case, it may still prove possible to use the urine bacterial signature to help distinguish aggressive from low risk disease to help men to make more informed treatment decisions.

On the other hand, if the research team find that certain types of bacteria might cause prostate cancer, it may then be possible to run a clinical trial to test whether antibiotic treatments against those strains can prevent prostate cancer growth or development. This knowledge could revolutionise our understanding of prostate cancer and how to prevent it.

Progress so far

So far, the team have collected over 1000 urine samples and 200 prostate cancer tissue samples which they have begun to look for bacteria in. They have already found three new bacterial species, and there is evidence to show that some of these species are found more commonly in men with severe prostate cancer. Now the team know which bacteria to look for, they can specifically search for these bacteria in more samples, and find stronger evidence that certain bacteria are linked to advanced prostate cancer.

Grant information

Reference - RIA15-ST2-029
Lead Researchers - 
Professor Colin Cooper and Dr Daniel Brewer
Institution - University of East Anglia
Award - £208,608