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
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power