Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in men in Australia, and the third most common cause of cancer deaths. One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer by the age of 85, with around 63 per cent of cases diagnosed in men over 65.
As deadly as prostate cancer can be, many prostate tumours are completely harmless. Now, a new technique developed in Sweden appears to have unlocked the key to finding out which is which at an early stage.
Researchers at Umeå University in Sweden have discovered a faster and easier way to determine who has an aggressive form of cancer, and who has not. This would be of huge benefit to medical services struggling with the balancing act of detecting as many cancers as possible in good time to start treatments early, yet avoiding diagnosis when the tumour is harmless.
Professor Maréne Landström’s team at Umeå University’s department of medical biosciences has discovered a new function in specific proteins in the transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) signalling pathway, which affects how cancer cells grow and spread.
“With the use of this new discovery”, said Prof. Landström, “we can put the men with prostate cancer whose prognosis is promising at ease, and those with high-risk prostate cancer can be offered treatment sooner.”
TGF-β is the key.
Read: A prostate catch 22
“We have found a new, previously unknown, function of the TGF-β type I receptor (TbRI), which is an important signalling protein in cancer cells. Previous studies have shown that TGF-β signalling is important in the development of several cancer forms,” said Prof. Landström.
Further investigation led the researchers to what is known as the ‘AURKB-TβRI complex’. This, says Prof. Landström, “may be a useful biomarker for early detection of advanced prostate cancer, which may be of huge clinical benefit in the development of precision drugs for treating prostate cancer.”
The research is at a relatively early stage, but Prof. Landström believes that, with funding, a useable test could be developed within a few years.
“We estimate that it will take us two to three years to develop a test based on our findings,” she said.
This is potentially good news for both at-risk men and medical practitioners. Many doctors use PSA (prostate specific antigen) testing as a tool to aid prostate cancer diagnosis, but the results can sometimes be misleading.
Higher than normal PSA levels can indicate prostate cancer. However, a high PSA result does not necessarily mean cancer because other prostate conditions can also raise those levels. Adding to the confusion, some men with prostate cancer have normal PSA levels.
The new developments at Umeå University may help end that confusion and potential misdiagnoses.
Have you had a prostate check lately? Or been diagnosed with prostate cancer? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?
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