A new study suggests that many men who develop advanced prostate cancer were born with a faulty gene dubbed BRCA1 which might have triggered the condition. Researchers call for DNA testing of prostate cancer patients as the gene not only hampers treatment, but it can also be passed on to offspring.
BRCA1, which is also a suspect in ovarian and breast cancers, can be carried by one in 10 men with an aggressive form of the disease.
The study, which involved nearly 700 cancer patients with an advanced form, revealed that many of them had a genetic predisposition to develop the disease at maturity. Men who inherited the disease should take treatments that focus on fixing the broken genetic code before destroying cancer cells, researchers noted.
According to recent studies, one in seven men will be diagnosed with the condition. In the U.S., it is the second leading cause of cancer death in male patients after lung cancer. Every year, 180,890 men learn they have prostate cancer and 26,120 die from it.
Prostate cancer usually affects men aged 65 or older. It rarely develops before age 40. In some cases, tumors develop very slowly and are not life-threatening, but in a third of cases they are very aggressive and can result in death.
Study authors’ initial plan was to find a gene that may be responsible for tumor aggressiveness in prostate cancer. Cancer experts at London’s Institute of Cancer Research conducted saliva tests on 692 participants.
In 12 percent of cases, a faulty gene linked to cancer was inherited, tests showed. Experts think that BRCA1 may be the root cause of the disease.
Lead author Johann de Bono believes that DNA testing could improve treatments and chance of survival for prostate cancer patients. He explained that PARP inhibitors have proven effective in fixing some DNA repair mutations. Plus, the inhibitors hindered tumor growth in several clinical trials.
Bono does not recommend screening of an entire family to detect mutations, but the latest study may explain why in some families the father and grandfather also had prostate cancer. If the DNA testing helps doctors assess the risk, it could also help with the development of better prevention methods.
For instance, if the findings are confirmed, high-risk men could simply remove their gland as precaution, Bono said. The procedure is already recommended for some high-risk female patients to prevent breast and ovarian cancers.
On the other hand, Bono and his team acknowledged that it is too early to apply the method on male patients as more research needs to be done.
The study was published recently in the journal NEJM.
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