You may well have already heard in the news today about the link between a faulty gene called BRCA2 and aggressive prostate cancer that has come from research carried out at The Institute of Cancer Research, London. Testing men to see if they have this BRCA2 gene could potentially be a way of identifying whether men are likely to develop the aggressive form of prostate cancer. Finding a way of identifying aggressive from non-aggressive disease is one of our three key research priorities, so this news is a great step forward.
Men faced with a diagnosis of prostate cancer are often put in a position of making decisions regarding their treatment without knowing whether their disease will lie dormant for years or spread like wildfire. With some diseases, this wouldn't be a problem, as the side-effects of treatment are less severe, and it would be an obvious choice to opt for the therapy that would rule out further problems and cure the cancer. Unfortunately when it comes to prostate cancer, the side-effects can be devastating for men, with impotence, incontinence and other physical and emotional symptoms a common problem.
If the prostate cancer is aggressive and potentially life-threatening, curative treatment - even with these common side-effects - is an obvious choice; better to live with these side-effects than the alternative. But some prostate cancers will not be aggressive and may cause very little problems. For these men, invasive treatment may be unnecessary.
I don't think it's overstating the issue to say that a test to tell aggressive from non-aggressive prostate cancer has been the holy grail for a number of years. This research is a step forward towards this goal, and we need to develop this work to enable medical professionals in the UK to tailor prostate cancer treatments more effectively.