The majority of the 200,000 prostate cancers diagnosed annually in the USA are slow growing (and will remain so). But some will become more threatening over time. What if we could have a simple tool to predict whether seemingly low-risk prostate cancer will stay slow-growing, or behave aggressively? Well, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (New York City) have found that the use of a 3-gene biomarker (in conjunction with existing cancer staging tests) might help us to better determine which men with early prostate cancer can be safely followed with “active surveillance” and spared the side effects of aggressive treatment such as surgery or radiation therapy.
Drs. Abate-Shen and Michael Shen focused on genes related to aging, especially those affected by cell senescence, a natural process in which older cells stop dividing, but remain metabolically active). Cell senescence plays a critical role in tumor suppression, and has been linked to benign prostate tumors.
The investigators identified 19 genes in a mouse model of prostate cancer in which the cancers were always quiet (indolent). They then used a decision-tree learning model, a form of computer-driven algorithm, to find 3 genes – FGFR1, PMP22, and CDKN1A – that can accurately predict the outcome of seemingly low-risk prostate cancer.
My Take: If this turns out to work in humans, it will be a huge breakthrough, helping spare tens of thousands of men annually from aggressive treatment, and side effects. If you are a mouse with prostate cancer, it is a good day for you! I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.
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Reference: Science Translational Medicine, Sept 2013