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Gene test may save prostate cancer patients from needless surgery

A newly developed genetic test could help to determine which men suffering from prostate cancer are likely to suffer from more aggressive forms of the disease, experts say.

Cancer cells as seen through a special microscope allowing observation of living organic material. The blue nucleuses have approximately 12 micrometers in diameter.
Cancer cells as seen through a special microscope allowing observation of living organic material. The blue nucleuses have approximately 12 micrometers in diameter.
Image: Czech News Agency/Press Association Images

A NEW GENETIC test may identify which men suffering from prostate cancer require more aggressive treatments, according to new research.

The test could potentially help to ensure that those in need of the strongest treatments would receive them, while others would be spared unnecessary treatment and the potential side effects associated, like impotence and incontinence. The early trial results by Cancer Research UK, based at Queen Mary, University of London, have suggested that men who have high levels of cell cycle progression genes (CCP) develop the deadliest tumours, the BBC reports.

The results of the study, which included 703 men with prostate cancer, indicated that men with the highest levels of CCP genes (which encourage cells to grow) were three times more likely than those with the lowest levels to have a fatal form of the disease. It also found that, of the patients who had had surgery to remove their prostate, those with the highest CCP levels were 70 per cent more likely to have a recurrence of the disease.

The respected Lancet Oncology journal has concluded that large-scale studies will now be needed.

Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer in Ireland, after skin cancer. Over 2,500 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in the country each year, according to the Irish Cancer Society.

Currently, doctors are unable to reliably predict how aggressive tumours are and some current tests can actually give false indications – which is why there is no screening program in Ireland for prostate cancer at present.

The lack of a screening programme has led to much debate among health care workers, Action Prostate Cancer reports. The difficulties around screening for prostate cancer occur because the test used to detect the disease, called the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, is not a specific test for prostate cancer; it can only indicate that a man may have a problem with his prostate gland which needs further investigation. However, as up to two thirds of men with a raised PSA do not have prostate cancer, routine PSA testing of all men could lead to much needless alarm and anxiety.

If the CCP test was proved to work after large-scale testing, experts have hopes that it could be rolled out as a screening programme.

The BBC quotes Professor Jack Cuzick, who led the research, as saying:”We already know that CCP levels can predict survival for breast and, more recently, brain and lung cancers.

“It’s really encouraging that this could also be applied to prostate cancer, where we desperately need a way to predict how aggressive the disease will be.”

For more information on prostate cancer see Prostate Cancer: The Manual.

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