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New genetic marker could help diagnose aggressive prostate cancer

Scientists have discovered a link between certain genetic mutations, the aggressiveness of prostate cancer, risk of developing the disease and poorer survival rates of patients. The gene, called ANO7, could play a vital role in improving diagnosis of prostate cancer patients. There are over 50,000 new cases and 11,000 deaths from prostate cancer each year in the UK.

There is currently no clear way to diagnose aggressive prostate cancer at an early-stage. Genetic mutations, such as those revealed in this study, could lead to the development of accurate diagnostic tests that will ultimately mean patients receive the best possible treatment, sooner.

The researchers studied the DNA from over 1,700 prostate cancer patients and a comparable number of healthy men to look for genetic mutations that were associated with the disease. They were particularly interested in studying mutations to the ANO7 gene because their previous research suggested this could be a gene of interest for prostate cancer.

Dr Johanna Schleutker, from the University of Turku, Finland, who led the study, said: “We found that small genetic changes to the ANO7 gene increase a patient’s risk of aggressive prostate cancer. One of the current biggest unmet needs in prostate cancer care is being able to diagnose aggressive cancers at an early stage. Genetic testing for ANO7 could help identify these patients sooner and may bring new opportunities for precision oncology in prostate cancer.”

The researchers found one particular genetic mutation that correlated with an increased risk of developing prostate cancer as well as the severity of the disease. They also found a separate mutation that correlated with shorter survival.

Analysis of tissue samples from prostate tumours revealed that mutations to ANO7 were associated with the gene being more active, suggesting that the biological function of ANO7 may play an important role in why these cancers are more aggressive. The function of ANO7 is not fully understood, but further research could lead to new ways to treat the disease.

Dr Helen Rippon, Chief Executive of the charity Worldwide Cancer Research, whose supporters helped fund the study, said: “Prostate cancer affects so many people so we desperately need to find new, clever ways to accurately diagnose patients sooner. Those with the more aggressive forms of prostate cancer have the bleakest outcome, but if we can devise tests to diagnose them early on in the disease process, we can do more to ensure they receive the best possible treatment. We are thankful to all the people that support Worldwide Cancer Research as they are the ones that make research like this possible.”

Although the study involved a large population, it is limited by the fact that it is primarily a Caucasian population from Northern Europe. Further research involving other demographics is needed to validate the findings. Worldwide Cancer Research, the Finnish Cancer Organisations, the Academy of Finland, the Juselius Foundation and the Research Funding of Turku University Hospital supported the research. The research was published in the International Journal of Cancer.

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