In 2013, Angelina Jolie told the world she carried a BRCA gene mutation that dramatically increased her risk of breast cancer. Now, Canadian doctors say they’ve uncovered the equivalent for men when it comes to prostate cancer.
Scientists out of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital say that changes in the KLK6 (Kallikrein) gene region may predict who is at a greater risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer and even who may be less receptive to treatment.
The gene mutation can be easily identified through the prostate-specific antigen – or PSA – test.
“Every woman knows that if you have a certain genetic risk factor that you’ve inherited, that you’re born with…she knows she is at high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. In prostate cancer, until now, there was little or no genetic known factors that would put a man at increased risk of prostate cancer and more specifically the aggressive form of it,” Dr. Alexandre Zlotta, a Mount Sinai scientist and University of Toronto professor, told Global News.
He said that men who carry the mutation have a threefold increased risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer. Carriers of the gene variant even face a threefold increased risk of not responding well to treatment.
“It will help because if you have a PSA and you’re in the grey zone, but you have the genetic mutation, you perfectly know you need to go for a biopsy, you need to pick up on this aggressive form of disease which may kill you early on,” Zlotta said.
Ultimately, being screened for this genetic mutation could help patients and their doctors decide if they need to monitor their health, knowing they’re at an escalated risk.
This is an important factor because the PSA is so controversial. For men diagnosed with cancer through the PSA screening, up to 20 per cent receive a false-positive diagnosis – and up to 56 per cent of that group will be affected by over-diagnosis and invasive treatment. Critics worry that the screening may do more harm than good in the general population.
Identifying the KLK6 gene mutation would isolate the handful of men who are at risk of developing aggressive cancer.
Right now, these genetic biomarkers exist for other cancers, but not for prostate.
To uncover their findings, Zlotta and his team analyzed the blood samples of 1,858 men from three different studies conducted in Switzerland, the U.S. and Canada. They zeroed in on the KLK6 variant and how it tampered with the risk of developing a deadly form of prostate cancer, along with how receptive the men were to cancer treatment.
Zlotta concedes the findings are preliminary, but he said the study provides major strides in prostate cancer research.
“It’s already a very important first step in a gene that will be equally as significant as the BRCA gene for women,” he said.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Canadian men. It usually grows slowly and can often be completely removed. In 2016, it’s estimated that 21,600 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer.
The PSA test is a simple blood test that looks at proteins made by prostate cells.
The PSA test helps to find prostate cancer early in men who do and don’t have any signs or symptoms of the disease.
Men should start talking to their doctor about prostate cancer in their 40s, especially if they have a family history of it. PSA testing typically starts in your early 50s.
Zlotta’s full findings were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.