by Taylor Sittler, co-founder and chief scientific officer
New studies suggest a man’s risk of prostate cancer may be heavily influenced by specific genetic changes, called mutations, previously linked to breast and ovarian cancer in women. These studies identified some of the same genes (BRCA1, BRCA2, CHEK2, etc.) known to increase a woman’s risk of cancer in a different context: in men with metastatic prostate cancer (Pritchard et al. 2016).
The main conclusion from the 700 men studied was that over 10% of men with metastatic prostate cancer have mutations in these genes, very similar to the fraction of women with breast cancer who have mutations in many of the same genes. However, unlike in women, the chances of identifying a mutation was not affected by whether men had a family history of prostate cancer or whether their diagnosis was made at a young age.
The findings may suggest that certain mutations in these genes increase a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer.
Although more research is needed to confirm and broaden these findings, one outcome of this research would be to begin screening these men. Genetic testing in men with prostate cancer may help them to receive the right treatment (Palmbos and Hussain 2016) and help their family members to better understand their own risk of cancer.
Genetic Testing Could Help Detect and Predict Prostate Cancer Risk
To understand the potential impact of this discovery as it relates to prostate, we can look at the results of identifying the link between specific genetic mutations and breast and ovarian cancer (Easton et al. 2015; King et al. 2003) . Mutations in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 are known to confer an over 80% lifetime risk of breast cancer and almost 50% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer in women. Changes to the DNA of BRCA1, BRCA2, and other genes are thought to cause 10–15% of all breast cancers, affecting 25,000–40,000 women with hereditary breast cancer every year. They are also thought to contribute to up to 25% of all ovarian cancers.
Due to these discoveries, genetic testing for hereditary cancer risk is of major importance for women. With similar discoveries now for metastatic prostate cancer, genetic testing could impact preventive care and detection recommendations as it does with breast and ovarian cancer. For instance, genetic testing is currently recommended for women who have had cancer and for women with a strong family history of cancer (NCCN Genetic/Familial High-Risk Asses…). Additionally, these recommendations are being broadened to reach more women who may be at risk (King et al. ; Manchanda et al. 2015; Manchanda et al. 2015). There are now multiple interventions available for women at genetic risk to either reduce their chances of developing cancer or detect cancer at an early stage when it is more easy to manage.
With new discoveries like this one and access to more data, we are headed toward a future where both men and women can understand and minimize their risk of cancer, if not prevent it entirely.