WEDNESDAY, Dec. 3, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Prostate cancer can promote the growth of new nerves that are associated with more aggressive tumors, U.S. researchers report.
It's been shown that prostate cancer follows the growth of nerves, but this is the first study to find that prostate tumors actually promote nerve growth, says a team at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. The new finding is comparable to the discovery that tumors promote the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) to nourish themselves, the team said.
"This is the first report of this phenomenon. It represents an important new target in prostate cancer treatment, as prostate cancers are more aggressive when neurogenesis is present," study first author Dr. Gustavo Ayala, a professor of pathology and urology, said in a college news release.
The researchers calculated the density of nerves in human prostate tissues from prostate cancer patients and from people who died of other conditions. They found that nerve density was much higher in those with prostate cancer and precancerous lesions versus those without.
Ayala and colleagues also created a 3-D computer model that simulated the growth of nerves and axons (which carry nerve messages) in prostate cancer. They also found that blocking a protein called semaphorin 4F prevented the growth of new nerves and axons.
The study was published this week in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
The Baylor team believes that the nerve growth they found in prostate tumors also may occur in other types of cancers.
The American Cancer Society has more about prostate cancer.