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Gene discovery may lead to test for aggressive prostate cancer

Category: Prostate

Over the last few years, scientists have worked tirelessly to develop a genetic test capable of differentiating between aggressive, late stage prostate cancers that require immediate surgery and slow-progressing tumors that do not need to be operated on. Fortunately, researchers from Harvard University and Brigham and Women's Hospital have reportedly identified the gene that drives prostate cancer metastasis, which they hope will lead to innovative treatment and testing methods.

Prostate cancer develops in the prostate gland of the male reproductive system. It is the second most common cancer in American men. Approximately 200,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed each year.

Although there are no warning signs for early stage prostate cancer, malignant tumors can cause the gland to swell significantly, resulting in a frequent need to urinate, a weak or interrupted urinary stream and a painful burning sensation during urination or ejaculation.

Prostate cancer usually develops in men over the age of fifty, although many never experience symptoms and eventually pass away of a different condition. The slow-growing nature of some prostate cancers is the reason that genetic testing is so important.

Without a test capable of distinguishing the aggressiveness of prostate cancer, many men will continue to undergo radiation and chemotherapy even though most tumors do not grow fast enough to be dangerous, Health Day News reports. The identification of quickly spreading tumors is paramount in properly treating the disease.

In the study, the researchers reportedly found the gene responsible for prostate cancer metastasis.

"For the first time, we showed in a mouse model that when you take a gene out, you get metastasis and when you put it back in you don't get metastasis," said study author Karen Cichowski, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital. "It looks like the entire pathway is driven by this one gene, the cascade that drives metastasis."

She added that studies of human prostate cancers have shown a similar effect. Cichowski hopes that the findings can lead to better treatment options for the disease, as the molecule that the gene produces may be a target of drug therapy, according to the news source.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women's program are currently challenging other U.S. medical research centers to develop a drug therapy based on the molecule, which has been designated EZH2.

Meanwhile, a separate phase 2 study of Johnson & Johnson's experimental drug abiraterone has given hope to men with late stage prostate cancer who have run out of traditional treatment options.

In the latest trial, approximately half of the patients with an advanced form of the disease experienced a substantial reduction in blood levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA), the standard measure of prostate cancer activity, according to Reuters.

Moreover, nearly three out of every four study participants experienced a reduction in the number of circulating tumor cells, a drastic improvement to docetaxel, the only approved drug capable of fighting late-stage prostate cancer.

"Docetaxel is an important drug but it extends life for an average of just two to three months, so there is a desperate need to improve treatment options for late-stage prostate cancer patients," said chief investigator Johann de Bono of Britain's Institute of Cancer Research.

"In this trial, abiraterone shrank or stabilized men's cancers for an average of almost six months, which is a very impressive result," he added.

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