Men who carry the mutated BRCA1 gene have a four times greater chance of developing prostate cancer than other males, researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust reported in the British Cancer Journal. The mutated BRCA1 is found in people with a family history of not only breast cancer, but ovarian cancer as well.

Men with the mutated BRCA1 gene are also more susceptible to the very aggressive form of prostate cancer. The authors explained that hopefully, their findings may have an impact on the potential screening and treatment procedures for patients with prostate cancer.

If patients who have the mutated BRCA1 gene were detected early, doctors would then be able to monitor them for prostate cancer from a younger age, which would result in prompter and more targeted treatment if the malignancy developed.

In Great Britain, more than 50% of prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in males over the age of 70 years, making age the main risk factor. In this study, however, out of 913 men who underwent screening, three-quarters of the ones carrying the mutated BRCA1 gene had a prostate cancer diagnosis before reaching 64 years of age, indicating clearly that the presence of the faulty gene might serve as an early warning for individuals with a higher risk of developing the disease at a younger age.

Prostate cancer kills 10,000 men every year in the UK; 37,000 new diagnoses are made annually. Prostate cancer, the most common male cancer worldwide, is more common in the United Kingdom than lung cancer. The authors explained that low awareness contributes to the current number of deaths in the country.

Previous studies have shown that 70% of adult males do not know anything about prostate cancer and what its signs and symptoms are. Better awareness could save thousands of lives annually, they added.

Prostate Action Chief Executive, Emma Malcolm, explained:

“Early detection of prostate cancer can vastly improve the chances of successful treatment but at the moment there isn’t an effective way of screening for the disease. We’ve long known about the link between breast cancer and prostate cancer and this research confirms the likelihood of men developing prostate cancer from the inherited faulty BRCA1 gene.

Once gene testing becomes faster and cheaper we may be able to identify those men at a higher risk of prostate cancer and monitor them from an early age.”

Author Professor Ros Eeles, said:

“Until now there has been some doubt as to whether mutations in the BRCA1 gene increase the risk of prostate cancer. This large study has shown that men with prostate cancer have a 1 in 200 chance of having an alteration of this gene and men with this alteration have a 3.8 fold increased risk of developing the disease. This translates as nearly 9% risk of prostate cancer by the age of 65.

The important thing about this result is that there are drugs that can target specific defects that occur with the BRCA1 mutation and this kind of result can open up the possibility of targeted medicines based on genetics.”

Science information manager at Cancer Research UK, Josephine Querido, said:

“We suspected that men who inherited a faulty copy of the BRCA1 gene had a higher risk of prostate cancer, and this study shows us exactly how much this increases their risk. This will help doctors find the best way to monitor these men and select the right treatments for them.

Research like this will lead to new opportunities for preventing, diagnosing and treating the disease.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist