MONDAY, Sept. 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- An international team of scientists has identified 23 new genetic variants linked to a greater risk for prostate cancer.
Although more research is needed, the researchers said their findings, which bring the total number of common gene variants associated with prostate cancer to 100, could help doctors diagnose the disease earlier and could lead to the development of new treatments.
"Our study tells us more about the effect of the genetic hand that men are dealt on their risk of prostate cancer. We know that there are a few major genes that are rare and significantly affect prostate cancer risk, but what we are now learning is that there are many other common genetic variants that individually have only a small effect on risk, but collectively can be very important," Ros Eeles, a professor of oncogenetics at The Institute of Cancer Research in London, explained in an institute news release.
Eeles added, "To use the playing cards analogy again, sometimes multiple low cards can combine to form a high-risk score. We can now explain a third of the inherited risk of prostate cancer, and will shortly be conducting a clinical trial to find out whether testing for genetic variants in men can successfully pick up the disease early, and help direct targeted interventions for patients."
The team of scientists, from The Institute of Cancer Research, the University of Cambridge and the University of Southern California, examined the genetic information of over 87,000 men of European, African, Japanese, and Latino heritage. The investigators compiled genetic population studies of 43,303 men with prostate cancer and 43,737 "controls" (without prostate cancer) to increase the likelihood they would identify new variants.
The researchers found 16 new genetic indicators associated with prostate cancer risk in European men, including a variant linked with increased risk of early onset disease. They also identified seven genetic indicators in men of mixed heritage. As a result, the study's authors said they could now explain 33 percent of the inherited origins of prostate cancer in European men.
Among the European men assessed for the 100 common variants, the 10 percent at greatest risk are nearly three times more likely to develop prostate cancer, according to the study published Sept. 14 in Nature Genetics. The researchers also found the top 1 percent are nearly six times more likely to develop the disease.
Looking ahead, the researchers plan to investigate if these new findings could improve on prostate cancer screening tests. In particular, they are examining whether genetic testing could help diagnose more men at risk for aggressive forms of prostate cancer that need immediate treatment.
"The results of this study could take us a step closer to targeted screening by allowing us to identify those most at risk of the disease based on the genes that they possess," Dr. Matthew Hobbs, deputy director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said in the news release.
"However, this is not the end of the story, and the challenge now lies in translating this knowledge into a reliable test that can be used on a large scale through the NHS [National Health Service] to find those men at highest risk," Hobbs added.
The American Cancer Society has more on prostate cancer treatment.