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A Genetic Fingerprint

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, according to the American Cancer Society, next only to skin cancer. While curable, it can still be fatal, especially for men diagnosed with prostate cancer that's already spread to other parts of the body — raking in a survival rate of only 28 percent. In the U.S., for instance, there will be around 161,360 estimated new cases of prostate cancer for 2017, with about 26,730 deaths.

Dr. Robert Bristow. Credit: The Canadian Press

How localized prostate cancer, which is potentially curable, ends up spreading rather quickly is the subject of new research published in Nature. Canadian researchers part of a collaboration among various institutions have discovered that genetic fingerprint that could explain this phenomenon.

"We used specialized state-of-the-art DNA sequencing techniques to focus on the genetics of prostate cancers to better understand what is so different from one man's disease to another man's disease," explained principal investigator Robert Bristow, from the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network.

Individualized Treatment

Bristow's research involved analyzing the tumors of 500 men with localized prostate, non-hereditary prostate cancer. In a related study, published in Nature Communications, Bristow worked with Paul Boutros from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research to crack the genetic code that shows why inherited diseases in BRCA-2 — a human tumor suppressing gene — can become lethal in rare cases of BRCA-2 mutation, which affects DNA repair in damaged cells.

Bristow explains:

These genetic fingerprints had high accuracy in being able to discern those men who do well with surgery or radiotherapy and those men that already have early spread of their disease outside the prostate gland. This information gives us new precision about the treatment response of men with prostate cancer, and important clues as to how to better treat one set of men versus the other to improve cure rates overall.

As with similar research, the next step is to translate the findings into a useful diagnostic tool to be used in the clinic. "We will be testing 500 more men over the next two to three years to accomplish that," Bristow said. "It is an exciting era in prostate cancer research. We will soon be able to identify in the clinic the exact genetic state of a man's cancer and react on a patient-to-patient basis to cure more men worldwide."

He adds: "The richness of information in our genetic findings today will enable us to sort individual patients further into appropriate groups of risk for spread of their disease and effect cures in men who otherwise might have been incurable."

Combined with other existing treatments for prostate cancer, this genetic fingerprint could be an invaluable tool to help further reduce the number of deaths associated with this disease.

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