For the first time, scientists have discovered prostate cancer can be categorized into five different types - a finding that may prove to be "game-changing," according to a new study.

Prostate cancer only affects men and targets the prostate gland.Share on Pinterest
Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among men.

The findings, published in the journal EBioMedicine, may have important clinical implication for the future. Doctors can now hope to identify which tumors are present in patient's body and if they are likely to spread aggressively and grow.

This new knowledge could open up the path to more tailored cancer treatments.

Previously, prostate cancer could not be separated into subgroups. Due to this, treatments for the disease can often be inconsistent in effectiveness due to the wide range of reactions from patients.

Prof. Malcolm Mason, from Cancer Research UK, describes the difficulties of treating prostate cancer. He explains:

"The challenge in treating prostate cancer is that it can either behave like a pussycat - growing slowly and unlikely to cause problems in a man's lifetime - or a tiger - spreading aggressively and requiring urgent treatment. But at the moment we have no reliable way to distinguish them."

"This means that some men may get treatment they do not need," he continues, "causing unnecessary side effects, while others might benefit from more intensive treatment."

Prof. Mason says the findings could be "game-changing" if the same results are achieved in larger clinical trials. He explains:

"Ultimately this could mean more effective treatment for the men who need it, helping to save more lives and improve the quality of life for many thousands of men with prostate cancer."

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in American men and is the second leading cause of cancer death among white, African-American and Hispanic men in the US.

The American Cancer Society predict 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer and 27,540 deaths from the disease this year.

Treatment could be tailored based on a specific tumor

In 2010, scientists discovered breast cancer to be at least ten different diseases, each with its own unique genetic signature, using an integrated genomic approach in stratifying disease.

It was this landmark study that prompted researchers from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Addenbrooke's Hospital in the UK to investigate if the same techniques can be applied to prostate cancer.

Fast facts about prostate cancer
  • An estimated 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the US this year
  • There are nearly 2.8 million American men living with the disease
  • The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 69.
  • Learn more about prostate cancer

The sample group consisted of 259 men, with samples of healthy and cancerous prostate tissue taken for examination. Scientists looked out for abnormal chromosomes and measured the activity of 100 different genes linked to the development of prostate cancer.

The study discovered five distinct types, each with a characteristic genetic fingerprint, much like the study in 2010 on breast cancer.

The method utilized by the study also proved to be more effective at predicting the most aggressive cancers, compared with the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and the Gleason grading system.

Study author Dr. Alastair Lamb, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, hopes the findings here can be expanded to develop further our knowledge to treat the disease. He says:

"The next step is to confirm these results in bigger studies and drill down into the molecular 'nuts and bolts' of each specific prostate cancer type. By carrying out more research into how the different diseases behave, we might be able to develop more effective ways to treat prostate cancer patients in the future, saving more lives."

Medical News Today recently reported that management of the disease seems to have improved, according to a recent study. Health care professionals have encouraged a more "watchful waiting" approach as opposed to an aggressive treatment, such as surgery.

Although prostate cancer has affected millions, treatments for the disease are more effective than ever before. According to American Cancer Society, the most recent data claims the relative 5-year survival rate for all stages of prostate cancer is almost 100%. The 10- and 15-year relative survival rates are around 99% and 94%, respectively.