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A DNA Test Might Help Identify Aggressive Prostate Cancer

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For years now, doctors have been able to easily identify women who have higher chances of developing breast cancer due to genetics. Now, men diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body might want to consider getting a genetic test to get the same benefits, a study suggests.

Getting a genetic test might show if there are inherited abnormalities in DNA repair genes that could provide patients and family members more information on their health and cancer risks, UPI reports.

Dr. Michael Walsh, co-author and geneticist and pediatric oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center in New York City, said,

With the exception of some cancer syndromes in children, prostate cancer is the most heritable of human malignancies.

In a cancer center news release, Walsh said that the primary function of identifying abnormalities that might cause cancer is the prevention and early detection in family members. “Now we can use inherited genomic information to target treatment, with specific therapies shown to be effective in those with specific genomic subsets of prostate cancer,” he said.

The researchers studied 692 men with advanced prostate cancer, led by Dr. Peter Nelson at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. They looked at 20 genes known to play a role in DNA repair. The researchers found that advanced prostate cancer had links to mutations in DNA repair genes.

These mutations occur more frequently in men with an advanced form of the cancer that those with prostate cancer that has not spread, said the study. The rate of mutations in men with aggressive prostate cancer was 12%, compared to 5% among men with slower growing, more localized prostate cancer, reports TIME.

In addition, men with the mutated repair genes have higher chances of having relatives with cancers other than prostate, compared to men who don’t have such abnormalities. Getting genetically tested could help other family members find out if they are at a high risk for cancer, and help prevent it in younger generations.

Some cancer drugs target the mutations the researchers found, meaning gene testing might help these prostate cancer patients start on the most effective treatments right away.

Dr. Kenneth Offit, chief of clinical genetics and head of the Niehaus Center for Inherited Cancer Genomics at Memorial Sloan Kettering, said that these findings are important for two reasons.

First, they can potentially change clinical practice because now doctors know to offer DNA testing to all men with prostate cancer. Second is that there are clusters of other kinds of cancers in these families with mutated DNA repair genes that will help in further research and development.

Offit said that in his clinic, which is already conducting research studies, he was able to test the daughter of a man who had metastatic prostate cancer, and identify that she carried DNA abnormalities that increased her chances for ovarian cancer. Without the DNA test, she might not have found out at all.

More studies are needed to confirm whether mutated DNA repair genes could help in predicting how a disease will run, the scientists said. But in the future, it might be a big help in identifying which men with prostate cancer have the more aggressive type and which have the slow-growing type, to inform patients if they need more screening and medications, and how much monitoring should be conducted.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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