York Researchers Develop Test to Tell Manageable Prostate Cancer From Fatal

A team of researchers from the University of York have recently developed a test that can distinguish manageable from fatal prostate cancers with up to 92% accuracy.  This breakthrough could potentially reduce the number of unnecessary surgeries and radiotherapy sessions. The study was published in the British Journal of Cancer, and funder by The Freemasons of the Province of Yorkshire and the Masonic Samaritan Fund.

Identifying genetic biomarkers that are altered in different cancer types, the team was able to show in their study that over 25 men are unnecessarily treated with radiotherapy or surgery for every one life that is saved. Success rates could potentially be lessened as a result of unnecessarily treating prostate cancers all in the same manner.

Professor Norman Maitland, from the Department of Biology at University of York’s said, “Unnecessary prostate treatment has both physical consequences for patients and their families but is also a substantial financial burden on the NHS, where each operation will cost around £10,000. Cancers that are contained in the prostate, however, have the potential to be ‘actively monitored’ which is not only cheaper, but has far fewer negative side-effects in patients with non-life threatening cancer.”

To identify varying magnitudes of cancer, scientists must analyze genes that research has linked to aggressive cancers. In their study, the researchers analyzed over 500 cancer tissue samples and compared with non-cancerous tissues to detect patterns of a chemical group added to the genetic material to alter gene expression.

Factors affecting this gene expression include age, diet, and sleep, all of which impacting chemical alterations that can turn genes on and off. This process is integral to the normally functioning body, however when it malfunctions it can cause several diseases.

Using a computer algorithm, the scientists were able to cancel out noise caused by genetic patterns unique to the individual and identify specific patterns indicative of cancer. What they were left with was 17 possible biomarkers for prostate cancer.

“In some diseases, such as cancer, genes can be switched to an opposite state, causing major health issues and threat to life,” said Professor Maitland. “The challenge in prostate cancer is how to look at all of these patterns within a cell, but hone in on the gene activity that suggests cancer, and not only this, what type of cancer – dangerous or manageable? To put it another way: how to do we distinguish the tiger cancer cells from the pussycat cancer cells, when there are millions of patterns of chemical alterations going on, many of which will be perfectly healthy?”

Looking to integrate this technique into the clinical setting, the team is looking into developing a trial with new cancer samples, and to involve a partner to allow the test to be used on patients being treated in the NHS.

Dr Davide Pellacani, a researcher who began these studies in York before relocating to the University of British Columbia, said, “Using this computer analysis, not only could we see which tissue samples had cancer and which didn’t, but also which cancers were dangerous and which ones less so. Out of almost a million markers studied, we were able to use our new tools to single out differences in cancer potency.”

Sources: EurekAlert, British Journal of Cancer