An effective blood test for prostate cancer may be closer following the discovery a genetic marker linked to its most aggressive forms.
Research based on data from Iceland but carried out in the USA suggests that men with the marker 8q24, which lies on chromosome 8, have more aggressive tumours and an increased risk – some 60% - of the cancer. About 15% of Americans of European origin have the marker and about 30% of African Americans.
The new research lead to a vital breakthrough as current tests for prostate cancer such as the PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test are too limited and unreliable for widespread screening. Since many men will have slow-developing prostate cancers which will never need treatment, a test which could tell whether a more aggressive and deadly form might be a risk could be invaluable.
‘These findings will help us to understand the mechanisms underlying prostate cancer,' Brian Helfand, assistant research professor of urology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and a co-principal investigator of the study told The Times newspaper in the UK. ‘They hold great promise for the development of new treatments and prevention.
"We found that the carriers of these 8q24 markers had more aggressive tumors,’ he said. Patients who were carriers had cancers that were more likely to spread into the lymph nodes and were more difficult to remove surgically.
Men frequently miss the symptoms of prostate cancer. A recent survey of 2,500 men by the charity Everyman, based in the UK where one man an hour dies of prostate cancer, found that three-quarters of men do not know, or are unsure of, the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer. For this reason, many health campaigners believe that more proactive interventions such as screening are needed.