New research from the Institute of Cancer Research in the UK suggests that screening men with a family history of prostate cancer for certain gene mutations could identify those who are at increased risk of aggressive forms of the disease and need lifelong monitoring.
To reach their findings, recently published in The British Journal of Cancer, the investigators analyzed blood samples from 191 men with prostate cancer.
Using "second-generation" DNA sequencing technologies, the researchers assessed 22 different known cancer genes at the same time.
The team says this opens the doors for potential "rapid genetic screening" for prostate cancer that may identify a variety of genetic mutations.
All men had a history of three or more prostate cancer cases among close family. The researchers say they assessed men with this kind of family history in order to mimic existing gene testing methods that are used for breast cancer.
Mutations in eight genes 'increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer'
The research team discovered 13 "loss of function" mutations in eight DNA repair genes. The genes were BRAC1 and BRAC2 - genes already tested in women with a history of breast and ovarian cancer - ATM, CHEK2, BRIP1, MUTYH, PALB2 and PMS2.
The investigators found that men who had any of the 13 mutations were at much higher risk of developing an advanced and invasive form of prostate cancer and were more likely to die from the disease.
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Iain Frame, director of Prostate Cancer UK, which provided the majority of funding for the study, says:
"We urgently need to understand more about which men are at risk of developing prostate cancer and in particular aggressive forms of the disease.
[...] These results are exciting as they add to the growing weight of evidence that men with a family history of prostate cancer who possess certain genes may be at higher risk, providing us with another crucial piece of the jigsaw."
Genetic testing 'a potential part of the prostate cancer care pathway'
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed this year.
Prof. Ros Eeles, professor of oncogenics at the the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR) and co-leader of the study, says the team's findings put genetic testing of prostate cancer on par with genetic testing for breast cancer.
"We already have the technical capabilities to assess men for multiple mutations at once," she adds, "so all that remains is for us to do further work to prove that picking up dangerous mutations early can save lives. If so then in the future, genetic testing may be needed as part of the prostate cancer care pathway."
Dr. Zsofia Kote-Jarai, senior staff scientist at the ICR and co-leader of the study, says it is important to note that the study findings show at least eight gene mutations may significantly increase the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
But she says there are likely to be many more genes with mutations that increase the risk of prostate cancer aggression.
"Any future screening program would need to assess as many of these genes as possible - more than we currently look for in women at risk of breast cancer, for example," she adds.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that following a low-fat diet and taking fish oil supplements may reduce disease aggression for men with prostate cancer.
Written by Honor Whiteman