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New study targets men at high risk of prostate cancer

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by Cancer Research UK | News

30 October 2002

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A leading Cancer Research UK scientist today unveils plans for a Europe-wide study to target screening at men with a high genetic risk of prostate cancer.

Speaking at the charity’s first annual conference she will explain that testing for prostate cancer has traditionally proved problematic, as it is extremely common but often grows slowly and in many cases does not cause clinical problems.

But men who inherit a mutant BRCA2 gene – which can cause breast and ovarian cancer in female carriers – have at least a five-fold risk of developing prostate cancer.

Forty per cent of early onset, aggressive prostate cancers are linked to inherited factors. Some of these are due to alterations in this gene. Genetic screening could therefore provide an effective basis for earlier detection and diagnosis.

Scientists funded by Cancer Research UK are shortly starting a targeted screening study in men with genetic alterations in the BRCA2 gene.

At the charity’s first annual conference in Warwickshire Dr Ros Eeles, who works at The Institute of Cancer Research, will reveal plans of the five year study which will involve 500 men throughout Europe who have a fault in this gene.

The IMPACT trial will compare known genetic variations in prostate cancer patients and healthy volunteers to find out which ones are linked to higher than average risk of developing the disease.

Dr Eeles, a clinical senior lecturer in cancer genetics and clinical oncology, says: “The crucial thing about screening for prostate cancer is to identify those men with a high risk of an aggressive form of the disease.

Dr Eeles will call for the formation of a National Carrier Clinic Network, which would track everyone in the country with a higher genetic risk of developing cancer. But she will also warn that a shift in resources for health services will be required to fulfil the potential of the new screening procedures.

Dr Eeles adds: “There are likely to be two main areas where a shift will be required. The first will be identifying people who are shown to have a high genetic risk of cancer. This has already started with the creation of the National Cancer Research Network, for which the Government must be congratulated.

“In the longer term, genetic testing will need to become a routine part of oncology practice. We need to focus on bringing geneticists and oncologists together through national networks.

“It is a very exciting opportunity and it’s important that all health professionals in the field collaborate to ensure resources are used to best effect.”

Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, says: “With our advancing knowledge of cancer genetics comes a responsibility to inform the public so they have realistic expectations of what can be achieved. This is vitally important if we are to prevent screening services being overwhelmed.

“Over the next few years, genetic screening will undoubtedly bring benefits for people carrying high risk genes. But this will not be appropriate for the entire population and we need to work with Government and other health bodies to help the public understand this exciting but complex area.”