Prostate Cancer Screening Genetics

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men, affecting more than 150,000 individuals in the United States each year. Most men have a 14 percent chance of developing prostate cancer by the time they are 80 years of age. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men.

The prostate gland exists in the male reproductive system and creates nutrients that support the sperm. Prostate cancer detection begins with screening for a prostate-specific antigen (PSA). A biopsy then confirms the prostate cancer diagnosis. Prostate cancer risk factors, which increase a man’s chance of developing cancer, include age, ethnicity, family history and diet.

The Genetics of Prostate Cancer

Researchers have found that genetics may play a significant role in the development of prostate cancer. Cancer occurs when genes are mutated and do not produce the correct protein to control cell functions. The cells multiply out of control and can spread to other parts of the body, such as bones and lymph nodes.

Genes can begin to mutate before birth and continue throughout a person’s lifetime. This is hereditary, and the mutations may be passed on to future generations.

Most prostate cancer is sporadic. This means that a majority – 75 percent – of individuals with prostate cancer have genes that mutated after birth. Of the individuals with mutated genes, 5 percent will inherit prostate cancer. Twenty percent develop familial prostate cancer, which means that environmental and shared genes work together to result in cancer.

Testing and Screening for Prostate Cancer

The only way to know for sure if you carry a genetic mutation is to undergo genetic testing. Since there is currently no conclusive genetic test specifically for prostate cancer, it is necessary to rely on family history. If your family has a strong history of prostate cancer, you can participate in prostate cancer research to determine which genes are correlated with the disease.

There are several genes that, when mutated, indicate a risk for prostate cancer. A gene on chromosome 17 is associated with the disease, as well as several other mutated genes. Further research is required to verify these findings to determine if these genes can effectively be tested for predisposition to prostate cancer.

Prevalence of Prostate Cancer

Rates of prostate cancer vary widely throughout the world. Prostate cancer is least prominent in South and East Asia, more common in Europe and most common in the United States. African-American men are two times more likely to develop prostate cancer than Caucasians.

Prostate cancer normally develops in men over 50 years old. An estimated 28,000 deaths occur from prostate cancer each year, though this number is decreasing due to advances in medicine that allow for early detection and comprehensive treatment.

Prostate Cancer Prevention and Progress Towards a Cure

Men can determine their risk factors for prostate cancer through their family history and attempt to control certain environmental and lifestyle factors. In order to reduce the risk of developing the disease, doctors recommend:

  • avoiding tobacco products
  • eating a balanced diet
  • exercising
  • limiting alcoholic beverages
  • maintaining a healthy weight.

Eventually, research will determine which genetic mutations are correlated with prostate cancer. When that happens, genetic testing will be available to help men better assess their risk.

Resources

Cancer.Net (2008). The genetics of prostate cancer. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from the Cancer.Net Web site: http://www.cancer.net/patient/Learning About Cancer/Genetics/The Genetics of Prostate Cancer.

Sloan-Kettering Institute (2004). Prostate cancer and heredity. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Web site: http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/8625.cfm.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. (nd). Genes and disease: Prostate cancer. Retrieved January 28, 2003, from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/disease/Prostate.html.