January 17, 2008
5 Genes Almost 5 Times Greater Prostate Cancer Risk

If you have 5 specific genetic variations in your genes then Your risk of prostate cancer goes up by 4 to 5 times.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – New genomics research has found that a simple blood test can determine which men are likely to develop prostate cancer. Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and colleagues found that five genetic variants previously associated with prostate cancer risk have a strong cumulative effect.

Reporting in New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that a man with four of the five variants has an increased risk of 400 to 500 percent compared to men with none of the variants. The researchers then added a family history of prostate cancer to the equation – for a total of six risk factors. A man with at least five of the six factors had increased risk of more than 900 percent.

The article was published “Online First” today and will be included in the Feb. 28 print issue.

The scientists say each variant was independently associated with prostate cancer risk and that the variants are fairly common in the population. Together, these five variants and a family history accounted for almost half (46 percent) of prostate cancer patients. The study involved analyzing DNA samples from 2,893 men with prostate cancer and 1,781 healthy individuals of similar ages – all participants of a prostate cancer study in Sweden.

But what is the point of knowing you are doomed? We might be lucky and find out that people who have greater genetic risk of this or that disease would especially benefit from a particular risk lowering diet. Also, these risk genes are obvious targets for drug development to create drugs that suppress or enhance target genes to cancel out their disease risk.

Cheap DNA testing technology is producing a lot more research studies where many different genetic variations are found to be important at a time. Other studies will find gene combinations for risk of other diseases.

According to the researchers, this is the first time that anyone has been able to demonstrate how a combination of genes affect the risk of developing the disease. Scientists the world over are currently searching for gene combinations behind common diseases like cancer, diabetes and asthma.

"For the first time, this type of study has made it possible to develop a clinically viable gene test," says Professor Grönberg.

The study was based on genetic analyses of approximately 4,800 Swedish men, of whom 3,000 had prostate cancer and 1,800 had no prostate cancer diagnosis.

Once genetic tests for a great many diseases hit the market I expect to see a lot more interest groups to form to lobby for faster research. Once you know exactly what sort of ticking genetic time bombs you've got inside of you one response is to become a big supporter of research that aims to slay your big risks before they slay you.

The researchers were only looking at 2 chromosomes.

Investigators found 16 SNPs in five different regions of human chromosomes 8 and 17 that were more common to men with prostate cancer than those without the disease. The individual changes were ones previously linked to prostate cancer and other diseases, a good indication, the scientists say, that they were on the right track.

To create their panel, the scientists chose the best SNPs from each of the five regions and tested their cumulative effect on prostate cancer risk. As the number of associated SNPs increased, so did risk. Men with four or more of these SNPs were nearly 4.5 times more likely to have prostate cancer.

They did not compare all genetic variations. They were only looking at single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs: single letter differences in DNA sequences). SNPs are not the only kind of genetic variation. Plus, they were only looking at a subset of all SNPs. This suggests that other genetic risk factors for prostate cancer are waiting to be found and the same is true for other types of cancer.

Update: In just a few months you guys will be able to get yourself tested for your prostate cancer risk.

A company formed by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine is expected to make the test available in a few months, said Karen Richardson, a Wake Forest spokeswoman. It should cost less than $300.

This signals the beginning of a long awaited revolution in medical genetics.

This is, some medical experts say, a first taste of what is expected to be a revolution in medical prognostication.

I think a lot of people are going to be upset to learn which specific high risks they face. Well, in preparation for that day support the more rapid development of treatments to cure all the causes of aging and age-related diseases.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 January 17 10:53 PM  Biotech Cancer

rsilvetz said at January 18, 2008 8:50 AM:

OK. Let's get it straight. Cells are concentration-based computers. This means that genes are at most half the equation. The rest is a question of what nutrients pass by the cells.

One is not "doomed" if you have even all possible variations. You have to change your behavior. You are doomed if you have the variation AND keep doing the Western diet. Take away the estradiol and DHT inputs with known drugs. Create a nitroglycerin/curcuminoid suppository that delivers massive apoptotic-inducing doses locally on a regular basis. Load up on green-tea flavonoids. Short-circuit prostatitic inflammation. Dump the whole Western-diet and go Indian -- drops your prostate cancer risk many-fold. Etc. etc. etc.

David Govett said at January 18, 2008 9:02 AM:

It matters little which particular deleterious genes one has, as long as they are turned off. The epigenome's the thing.

Rob said at January 18, 2008 3:17 PM:

Dr. Silvetz,

Can you suggest an anti-DHT diet/lifestyle to avoid or reduce male pattern baldness?

reanimator said at January 19, 2008 7:50 AM:

Rob, see here:


I'm still looking for conclusive saw palmetto in vivo studies though,

Michael said at February 8, 2011 11:30 AM:

Prostrate cancer affects a large section of the male population. Great that one can identify the chances of contracting this disease but I dont think I would want to know. However the greater the understanding the greater the chancers of a cure

Nick G said at February 9, 2011 10:19 AM:

This is a classic example of how slowly medicine improves.

Three years ago we were supposed to get a test in just a few months, and we're still waiting.

Randall Parker said at February 9, 2011 8:09 PM:

Nick G,

Agreed. It is such a snail's pace. Imagine how many more choices we'd have without huge and very expensive regulatory barriers to market entrance.

Maya said at February 10, 2011 1:48 PM:

I think the real breakthrough in finding a cure will come with the advancement of stem cell technology. We could very well have had a cure by now if the government had allowed state sponsored research years ago in stem cell technology

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