In a first, scientists have identified a genetic variant linked to aggressive prostate cancer that could improve diagnosis and treatments for the disease, researchers said Monday.
"This finding addresses one of the most important clinical questions of prostate cancer -- the ability at an early stage to distinguish between aggressive and slow-growing disease," said the study's lead author Jianfeng Xu, cancer expert at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.
"Although the genetic marker currently has limited clinical utility, we believe it has the potential to one day be used in combination with other clinical variables and genetic markers to predict which men have aggressive prostate cancer at a stage when the disease is still curable."
Prostate cancer accounts for 25 percent of all cancer diagnoses in the United States. Aggressive prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death in the country, killing 27,000 men annually.
The researchers identified a genetic variant "rs4054823" associated with a 25 percent higher risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer.
"A single variant with a moderate effect such as this is unlikely to be sufficient on its own at predicting risk," said Xu. "But its identification is significant because it indicates that variants predisposing men to aggressive disease exist in the genome."
As more genetic variants linked to aggressive prostate cancer are identified, he added, men could likely be tested to determine their risk for the aggressive form of the disease earlier in their lives so they can undergo increased screening.
"Identifying factors that are associated with a risk of having or developing aggressive disease is urgently needed to reduce over-diagnosis and over-treatment of this common cancer," said study co-author Karim Kader, a Wake Forest urologist.
The study will be published online next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers analyzed genetic information from 4,849 men with aggressive prostate cancer and 12,205 with the slow-growing disease to determine whether men with aggressive disease shared genetic variants.
The analysis included participants in the Genetic Markers of Susceptibility study performed by the National Cancer Institute, as well as additional study populations in the United States and Sweden.