Genetic links may help men at higher risk of prostate cancer get an early diagnosis, research suggests
- A fifth of annual referrals for suspected prostate cancer could be fast-tracked
- Another 40 percent could avoid referrals and invasive biopsies
- Survival rates would improve if the most at-risk men were fast-tracked
- It would lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer
Men at high risk of developing prostate cancer could be diagnosed earlier if GPs considered genetic weaknesses, research shows.
A fifth of annual referrals for suspected prostate cancer could be fast-tracked for investigation, while a further 40 per cent could avoid referrals and invasive biopsies if genetic cancer risk was included in GP triage.
Fast-tracking men at highest risk could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment, improving survival rates.
A fifth of annual referrals for suspected prostate cancer could be fast-tracked for investigation, while a further 40 per cent could avoid referrals and invasive biopsies if genetic cancer risk was included in GP triage (Figure).
GPs make around 800,000 referrals for suspected prostate cancer in the UK each year. About 160,000 men could be fast-tracked and 320,000 could avoid the recommendation if genetic risk was considered a factor, according to the University of Exeter study, published in the British Journal of Cancer.
The team combined more than 250 known genetic variants associated with the disease into a single “score” to describe an individual’s genetic risk for developing prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer accounts for around a quarter of new cancer cases in men – around 52,000 men are diagnosed each year in the UK alone.
It is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and the five-year survival rate doubles if diagnosed at an early stage.
Men are two and a half times more likely to develop prostate cancer if their father or brother had it, according to Prostate Cancer UK. The chance of getting it may be greater if their father or brother was under 60 at the time of diagnosis, or if they have more than one close relative.
Lead author Dr Harry Green, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Our study is the first to show that incorporating genetic risk into a GP’s risk assessment of patients for symptoms of possible prostate cancer could lead to faster referral of patients at highest risk.” .’
Men are two and a half times more likely to develop prostate cancer if their father or brother had it, according to Prostate Cancer UK (picture).
Current tests for prostate cancer indicators give false-positive results in two-thirds of cases, meaning thousands undergo invasive and painful biopsies.
Pictured, lead author Dr Harry Green of the University of Exeter Medical School said the study was the first to illustrate that incorporating genetic risk could lead to faster referrals.
Research shows that tests can also miss about 15 percent of cancers.
One man who shared his story with researchers endured 18 months of anxiety. Richard Westlake, 74, a retired train driver, was alerted in November 2015 that trips to the toilet at night could be a sign of the condition.
His all clear didn’t come until June 2017.
He said: “If this new way of assessing patients could reduce the number of men who have to experience this, I think it would have huge benefits.”
Dusko Ilic, Professor of Stem Cell Science, King’s College London, said: “The much simpler and significantly cheaper blood test for prostate-specific antigen, which is already in place, has greater value as a biomarker in the diagnosis of prostate cancer.”