Scientists are currently trialing a simple spit test to determine which men are at an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. The purpose is to help identify the 1 percent of men who have particular genetic variants that make them more likely to develop the disease.
The diagnostic test is currently being trialed by researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research in the UK. The test hopes to pick up on the 163 different genetic variations that increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer by six times the population average.
The work comes after scientists managed to pinpoint a whole new sweep of genetic variations that can increase a man’s risk. Previously, around 100 variants had been known about, but the researchers were able to identify a further 63 after developing a brand new DNA test.
They did this through a new type of DNA analysis that’s been dubbed “Oncoarray”. They compared over 500,000 individual base pair changes in the DNA of close to 80,000 men with prostate cancer and over 61,000 without it. By doing this, they were able to uncover 63 new variants that, while individually made little difference, increase their risk when a few of them are combined.
Now, the team want to know whether or not genetic testing for these different variants is of any benefit to the men most at risk. The plan is to identify them when they visit their doctor and see if giving advice or preventative treatment will reduce cases of prostate cancer among those most at risk due to their DNA.
“By looking at the DNA code of tens of thousands of men in more depth than ever before, we have uncovered vital new information about the genetic factors that can predispose someone to prostate cancer, and, crucially, we have shown that information from more than 150 genetic variants can now be combined to provide a readout of a man’s inherited risk of prostate cancer,” explains the ICR’s Professor Ros Eeles in a statement.
“If we can tell from testing DNA how likely it is that a man will develop prostate cancer, the next step is to see if we can use that information to help prevent the disease.”
In the UK, around 130 men a day are diagnosed with prostate cancer, a figure that has increased by around 44 percent since the early 1990s. With the high levels of incidence, it is no wonder that it is also the second most common cause of cancer death. That means early diagnoses and prevention, such as what is now being trialed, could have a significant impact on men’s health.