By Peter Russell
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH
July 31, 2015 -- Scientists in the U.K. say there are five distinct types of prostate cancer, and they've found a way to distinguish between them.
They say the research could lead to better treatment, because doctors would be able to know which tumors are more likely to grow and spread.
The team, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Addenbrooke's Hospital, studied samples of healthy and cancerous prostate tissue from more than 250 men. To group the tumors into five distinct types, they looked for abnormal chromosomes and measured the activity of 100 different genes linked to prostate cancer.
In the journal EBioMedicine, they say this form of analysis was more accurate at picking up the most aggressive types of prostate cancer than tests currently used by doctors, including the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. But further and larger trials are needed to confirm the findings, they say.
Dr. Alastair Lamb, one of the researchers, calls the results exciting. "These findings could help doctors decide on the best course of treatment for each individual patient, based on the characteristics of their tumor," he says in a statement.
"The next step is to confirm these results in bigger studies and drill down into the molecular 'nuts and bolts' of each specific prostate cancer type.
"By carrying out more research into how the different diseases behave, we might be able to develop more effective ways to treat prostate cancer patients in the future, saving more lives."
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in U.S. men, behind skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. In 2015, the society estimates, about 220,800 new cases will be diagnosed, and about 27,540 men will die. About 1 man in 7 is diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, according to the society.
Expert: Research Could Be a Game-Changer
"The challenge in treating prostate cancer is that it can either behave like a pussycat -- growing slowly and unlikely to cause problems in a man's lifetime -- or a tiger, spreading aggressively and requiring urgent treatment," says Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research UK's prostate cancer expert. "But at the moment we have no reliable way to distinguish them. This means that some men may get treatment they don't need, causing unnecessary side effects, while others might benefit from more intensive treatment.
"This research could be game-changing if the results hold up in larger clinical trials, and could give us better information to guide each man's treatment -- even helping us to choose between treatments for men with aggressive cancers. Ultimately this could mean more effective treatment for the men who need it, helping to save more lives and improve the quality of life for many thousands of men with prostate cancer."
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