By the age of 65 many men will have some cancer cells in the prostate, but most will live out their natural span without the disease having any ill effects. Nonetheless, the disease kills 10,000 men a year in the UK. Prostate cancer can be treated – but the treatments carry a real risk of serious and permanent side effects, including incontinence and impotence. Since there has been no marker to distinguish harmless from aggressive cancer cells, many men prefer to cross their fingers and hope for the best; conversely, many thousands suffer invasive treatments which they may not require.
“A test to distinguish between aggressive tumours, the tigers, and those that are pussycats, has been the holy grail of prostate cancer research”, says Professor Colin Cooper of the Institute of Cancer Research, whose research team has been collaborating with a Liverpool team led by Professor Chris Foster. Together, they discovered that the E2F3 gene is a marker of how aggressive the prostate tumour will be.
“This should enable the development of a test to distinguish between aggressive and non-aggressive prostate cancer cells”, says Colin Cooper, “and we hope to achieve this within the next five years.
Professor Peter Rigby, Chief Executive at The Institute of Cancer Research, comments: “We now find ourselves in the unique and exciting position of being able to test new early markers of prostate cancer progression, which previously had not been possible. A rapid and immediate expansion of our research in this area is required so that our scientific advances can be translated into patient benefit without delay.” The new discovery may also provide scientists with an exciting new drug target.
This research is an excellent example of the main cancer research funders working together to tackle a major disease. It was co-funded by the Department of Health, Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council as part of a NCRI Prostate Cancer Collaborative.
FURTHER INFO: Contact Chris Foster at Christopher.Foster@liverpool.ac.uk.