Genetics helps find men at most risk of cancer

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A COLLECTION of 13 gene defects can be used to identify men most at risk from life-threatening prostate cancer, scientists have shown.

The discovery raises the prospect of screening men for the first time to single out those predisposed to developing aggressive and potentially deadly tumours.

Scientists tested blood samples from 191 British men with prostate cancer who had at least three relatives affected by the disease.

Fourteen carried “loss of function” mutations in their DNA that completely stopped a gene working. Having any one of these flaws dramatically boosted the chances of developing invasive, spreading prostate cancer.

In future, men could be tested for the variants in the same way that women are currently screened for breast cancer genes, the researchers believe. This would herald a revolution in prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Professor Ros Eeles, from London’s Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our study shows the potential benefit of putting prostate cancer on a par with cancers such as breast cancer when it comes to genetic testing. Although ours was a small, first-stage study, we proved that testing for known cancer mutations can pick out men who are destined to have a more aggressive form of prostate cancer.

“We already have the technical capabilities to assess men for multiple mutations at once, so all that remains is for us to do further work to prove that picking up dangerous mutations early can save lives.

Women with a strong family history of breast cancer are routinely tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene defects, both of which greatly increase their chances of developing the disease.

But the picture is much more complicated for prostate cancer, which seems to be linked to a multiplicity of different genetic mutations.

Currently there is no way of screening men who might be at risk from ferocious “tiger” prostate cancers that could cut short their lives.

An effective screening test would make it possible to step in early and treat men with developing dangerous cancers before they progress too far.

Despite big advances in treatment, around 11,000 of the 40,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in the UK die from the disease.

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