Scientists identify genetic cause of prostate cancer

Scientists have made a major advance in understanding the genetic causes of prostate cancer, opening a new front in the battle against the most common malignant disease in men.

Seven new genetic mutations have been identified that are present in over half of all new cases of prostate cancer, diagnosed in 35,000 men a year.

The discovery helps explain why the disease runs in families. Each individual mutation increases the risk by up to 60 per cent and when all seven are present together the risk is raised three-fold.

Prostate cancer is one of the most rapidly increasing cancers in the UK but the existing blood test for the disease is unreliable. The breakthrough means a new genetic test for prostate cancer could be developed to identify men at high risk who could be targeted for regular screening and early treatment.

Two of the seven genetic mutations identified could lead to the development of new treatments and a more accurate blood test for the cancer.

Ros Eeles, of the Institute of Cancer Research in London who led the study, said that it was the culmination of 13 years work involving 10,000 patients and the analysis of three billion genetic variations.

"We are very excited. This is a big step forward. To have seven hits fall out of a genome-wide study is very unusual."

"These results will help us to more accurately calculate the risk of developing prostate cancer and may lead to the development of better targeted screening and treatment."

The study, funded by Cancer Research UK, involved collaboration between scientists in the UK and Australia and is published in Nature Genetics.

The advance marks the latest triumph for the new science of genetic profiling which is transforming understanding of the genetic basis of disease. Last May, scientists announced the discovery of four new genes which increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. Similar advances have been made in bowel and lung cancer.

Dr Eeles said: "These findings show genetic medicine is going to happen. We will be starting research this year on developing a genetic test [for prostate cancer] which could be available in three to four years. But we need to ask first who should provide it and how it should be done. It would be irresponsible for a genetic testing company to develop this and sell it over the Web."

Use of such a test would raise difficult ethical and practical issues. Any man identified as at high risk of developing the cancer would face a lifetime of regular screening tests to check if the disease was present, followed by treatment of uncertain effectiveness and with a risk of side-effects. The implications of undergoing the test needed to be carefully thought through before it was made widely available, Dr Eeles said.

One of the genes identified, LMTK2, codes for a signalling protein called kinase which is also altered in some other cancers and in Alzheimer's disease. This offered the prospect of a single treatment target for the two diseases.

Dr Eeles said: "Drugs against these types of kinase are already being developed. We may end up with a drug that targets Alzheimer's and prostate cancer as kinase is involved in brain signalling. This may be an area where we can have a double edged approach."

A second gene, MSMB, identified codes for a protein whose level in the blood falls as prostate cancer develops. This has raised hopes of developing a new, more accurate blood test.

'My brother bullied me to go to my GP' - Laurie Whelan, 79

Both Laurie Whelan's brothers developed prostate cancer in their fifties. That meant his own risk of the disease was about 10 times the average – but he had no idea of the danger he was in.

"It never occurred to me that their cancer had anything to do with me. It wasn't until my younger brother bullied me to go to my GP that I discovered it," he said.

Mr Whelan, a former laboratory manager in a London hospital, was eventually diagnosed.

The cancer was so advanced it was inoperable and he was treated with a combination of radiotherapy and hormone treatment. That was 10 years ago. Today, aged 79, he is still free of the cancer – but is now worried about the future for his three sons, who are all in their forties.

The eldest has been tested and found to be free of the disease but he and the younger two face regular screening tests for the rest of their lives.

As a result of his strong family history, Mr Whelan volunteered for the Cancer Research UK study which resulted in the identification of seven new genes linked with the cancer.

"I am delighted it has produced such exciting results," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003