Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center may have discovered a way to predict how aggressive prostate cancer will become through a process of gene identification. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
In the United States, about 230,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year.
The majority of those diagnosed have what's called slow-growing cancer.
"The man can live for a very long time, without ever developing anything that would be clinically manifested as a tumor," says Dr. Cory Abate-Shen from Columbia University Medical Center.
Doctors traditionally take a tissue sample or biopsy, and determine the stage of the cancer through a tool called the Gleason score.
"When a physician is looking into a biopsy, it's like looking into a crystal ball," Dr. Abate-Shen says.
But now, Dr. Abate-Shen and her team of researchers at Columbia University Medical School say they've found a way to make that picture even clearer.
"This is really the holy grail," Dr. Abate-Shen says.
They've identified three genes that can be used to predict whether seemingly low-risk prostate cancer will continue to grow slowly.
If the genes are present, the cells look subtle and light.
"If they are present, then that would suggest that the patient has less chance of developing harmful tumors than if they’re not present," Dr. Abate-Shen says.
The presence of darker, larger cells, however, are more likely to become aggressive.
"We looked for genes that were both associated with aging and associated with being anti-tumor," Dr. Abate-Shen says.
The older cells no longer divide, making it difficult for the tumor to grow.
They tested the theory on 43 patient biopsy samples and correctly identified all of the cases that had progressed to advanced prostate cancer.
The goal is to develop it into diagnostic test.
"With the hope that you could identify men that need to be treated right away more readily, which is very important, and on the other hand, not treat men who don't need to be treated," Dr. Abate-Shen says.
Researchers say the approach of searching for age-related but non-tumor causing genes could also be used to help advance the study of other cancers.
"This needs to be validated in a larger cohort for sure, but if it's validated, this could really be a big help," Dr. Abate-Shen says.
Dr. Abate-Shen says an expanded study is already in the works.