Gene breakthrough gives insight on prostate cancer

Targeted screening based gene variants could be ready by 2011.

Scientists have discovered seven genetic variants that contribute to prostate cancer risk.

The discovery could lead to a national screening programme for the condition in as little as three to four years, said lead researcher Dr Ros Eeles, a clinical cancer geneticist at the Institute of Cancer Research.

'A logical place for that to sit is within primary care,' she said.

The first part of the study scanned the DNA of 1,171 men diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 61 years, 683 men with a family history and 1,894 men without the cancer.

This identified 11 independent, significant single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) - minute variants in genes - linked to prostate cancer.

Checking for the frequency of these SNPs in 3,268 prostate cancer patients from the UK and Australia and 3,366 men without the disease picked out the seven most frequent SNPs.

Around half of all prostate cancers carry these genetic alterations, say the researchers.

Rather than be linked to an absolute increased cancer risk, the gene variants have a cumulative and synergistic effect.

These could be used to identify men most at risk of prostate cancer, who could then be targeted for annual prostate-specific antigen tests.

'This will happen and we'll be able to deliver,' said Dr Eeles.

However, further research is needed before such a test could be marketed, she added.

rachel.liddle@haymarket.com

Nature Genetics Online 2008

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