Scientists have identified proteins which appear to play an important role in triggering the onset and early spreading of particularly aggressive forms of prostate cancer.
A team, led by Nottingham Trent University's John van Geest Cancer Research Centre, discovered how these proteins drive early stage prostate cell changes associated with cancer formation and spread to other tissues in some patients with the disease - leading to a reduced chance of survival.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among UK males, with more than 42,000 men diagnosed, and more than 10,500 dying from the disease, each year.
It is hoped the study could be used to identify those patients at increased risk of metastasis, the spreading of the disease to other parts of the body. It could also open up the possibility of treating the malignant process at an earlier stage of development for these aggressive cancers, by targeting the proteins through the development of new or existing therapies.
The new study - which also involved Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and the Royal Derby Hospital - appears in Nature Publishing Group journal, Oncogene.
It focused on changes in the cellular distribution and balance of the anti-cancer proteins 'Pro-Myelocytic Leukemia' (PML) and CRM-1 that occur during transformation from healthy to cancer formation in prostate cells.
"We are talking about these proteins being involved in the onset and very early stage of prostate cancer invasion, which is the first step of the disease spreading outside the prostate," said researcher Dr Tarik Regad, a senior scientist in Nottingham Trent University's John van Geest Cancer Research Centre.
He said: "While for many men the disease may cause no serious problems, some prostate cancers will develop an aggressive form of disease, which spreads quickly, and as a result leads to reduced life expectancy.
"It is therefore essential to identify new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers which could be used for the identification and treatment of patients at risk of having aggressive disease through the development of targeted, personalised therapies."
Tissue samples and clinical data from patients attending Nottingham University Hospitals Trust (NUH) over the last 10-15 years were used in the study.
Dr Des Powe, Principal Healthcare Scientist in Pathology (Nottingham University Hospitals Trust) said: "We have assembled a vital clinical-pathology resource that will enhance future collaborative prostate cancer research by providing a means to identify only those biomarkers that are likely to have significant impact in clinical decision-making."