Each year in the U.S., over 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, making it the most common non-skin cancer in men. Most cases—80 percent—are slow-growing, and only 3 percent are deadly.
Men with a slow-growing prostate tumor can often live for a long time with no ill effects from the cancer. Many of them, however, undergo treatment—such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation—which puts them at risk of unnecessary side effects like impotence and incontinence.
Currently, there is no way for doctors to tell which cases of prostate cancer require treatment. But a new genetic discovery, published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology, may help doctors decide which prostate tumors are aggressive, and which are better handled by watching and waiting.
“As with breast cancer, everybody wants to find the holy grail – the indicator of how the cancer will behave in the future, and what treatment, if any, is warranted,” senior author Sharon Mair, MD, said in a news release.
Researchers analyzed tissue taken from 240 men during surgery to remove the prostate. They then identified four proteins that corresponded to different genetic sequences in the prostate tissue.
All of the men in the study had at least one of those markers. Two of the proteins were linked to slow-growing prostate tumors, and two to more aggressive forms. If verified with larger studies, this genetic test could be used by doctors to decide the best course of treatment for men with prostate cancer.
It could also reduce medical costs. In 2010, 48 men were treated for every life saved, which added up to $600 million spent on treatment of prostate cancer.