CANCER RESEARCH UK scientists have discovered a molecular ‘flag’ that predicts survival from prostate cancer at diagnosis, reveals a study published in the British Journal of Cancer.

The research led by pathologists based at the University of Liverpool measured the levels of a protein called heat shock protein-27 (Hsp-27) in prostate tissue samples taken from 553 men at the time they were diagnosed with prostate cancer. During a 15-year follow-up, the research showed that those men who tested positive for Hsp-27 at diagnosis were almost twice as likely to die from prostate cancer, than men who did not have the protein.

These findings suggest that Hsp-27 could be used as a potential test to distinguish men with the aggressive forms of the cancer that need immediate treatment from men with slow-growing forms of prostate cancer, and with which they can live with for many years. At the moment, there are no reliable tests to make this distinction.

Lead author, Professor Chris Foster, a Cancer Research UK-funded scientist at the University of Liverpool’s School of Cancer Studies, said: “We have identified a link between the presence of Hsp-27 at diagnosis and a lower survival rate for prostate cancer. Our study shows that this protein marker – currently found in tissue samples – can give us a reliable and accurate indication of whether individual cancers will become aggressive. Currently, we are working on developing this finding into a blood test to monitor men with prostate cancer in order to determine when their individual disease needs treatment.”

Hsp-27 is a key component of signalling pathways that control the movement of cells around the body. The study also suggests that new drugs could be developed to block these signals and halt the spread of prostate cancer cells.

Professor Foster added: “If further research shows that blocking these cell message systems is successful, it could provide a new treatment for aggressive forms of prostate cancer.”

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “These results are an important step towards tackling the long-standing question of how to treat men with prostate cancer once it has been diagnosed. The need for treatment varies greatly between patients – men with non-aggressive cancer can live with it for many years without needing therapy, while aggressive cancers require prompt treatment with combinations of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. But it is very difficult to distinguish who has which type of cancer.

“A marker molecule which identifies aggressive prostate cancer would help us target active treatment to patients who need it -avoiding unnecessary therapy, which can have side effects, to those who don’t.” She added: “The next stage would be to test this protein in large clinical trials to decide if how useful it could be for diagnosis or treatment.”


For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.


*Hsp-27 expression at diagnosis predicts poor clinical outcome in prostate cancer independent of ETS-gene rearrangement. British Journal of Cancer. CS Foster et al.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, with around 34,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Around 10,000 men die from the disease each year in the UK.

There are several tests that are used to diagnose prostate cancer including the PSA blood test – PSA is a protein produced by both normal and cancerous prostate cells. A high level of PSA can be a sign of cancer but there is no one PSA reading that is considered ‘normal’ and average levels rise with age. PSA alone is not recommended for screening in the UK, as the evidence of its reliability is still very unclear.

Prostate cancer symptoms:

Having to rush to the toilet to pass urine Difficulty in passing urine Passing urine more often than usual, especially at night Pain on passing urine Blood in the urine or semen