Gene Marker Suggests Likelihood of Prostate Cancer Metastasizing

Researchers have found a genetic signature that can forecast whether cancer is likely to metastasize or spread in the early stages of localized prostate cancer. The signature can also predict whether the disease will respond to anti-androgen therapy. In addition, the new signature may be beneficial in helping evaluate the disease’s response to treatment as well as creating new treatments to treat or avert the advanced stages of prostate cancer. This groundbreaking study was reported in “Nature Cancer.”

A professor of cell biology and pathology in Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, Cory-Abate-Shen, senior author of the study, states that if scientists could know beforehand which patients would develop metastases, this would enable them to begin treatments earlier and treat the disease more aggressively. The information would also be valuable for patients whose cancer is likely to remain restricted to the prostate as they could be spared unnecessary therapy.

In the United States, prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men. This year, it is estimated that approximately 33,330 men will succumb to the disease. Most prostate cancers do not spread to other areas, remaining in the prostate. These cancers can be managed successfully by local therapy such as radiotherapy or surgery or surveillance. Their five-year survival rates are over 99%. However, once prostate cancer spreads, survival rates reduce to about 30%, and the cancer is said to be incurable.

Associate research scientist in therapeutics and molecular pharmacology at Columbia University, Juan M. Arriaga, lead author of the study, states that it’s difficult to know which cancer is which, a problem that impacts the current tests being used. This challenge can lead to overtreating of cancers that grow slowly and that may not have spread; it can also contribute to missing aggressive cancers that could have been treated in good time.

The researchers used a mouse model to identify a more precise technique of forecasting advanced prostate cancer. They discovered that the molecular profile of bone metastases was different when compared to the molecular profile of primary tumors. This enabled the researchers to determine 16 different genes that prompt localized prostate cancer to spread.

The researchers note that the genetic signature, i.e., META-16, was extremely effective at predicting the time the disease would start spreading and if it would respond to anti-androgen therapy. This therapy is used to suppress the male hormone as it stimulates tumor progression. The new signature may, in theory, be used to create therapies that prevent metastatic prostate cancer. At this stage, the researchers are improving the test, with the hope that they’ll assess it in a future clinical trial.

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