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Researchers discover new genetic variants for prostate cancer, documenting racial disparities in the process

February 4, 2021

Man in glasses

Inherited prostate cancer risk is higher in Black men than in white men, a new study confirms, strengthening the case for proportionate racial representation in medical research.

“Men of African ancestry inherit about twice the prostate cancer risk on average compared to men of European ancestry, while men of Asian ancestry inherit about three-quarter the risk of their white counterparts,” say scientists at the USC Center for Genetic Epidemiology and the Institute for Cancer Research in London. They describe the findings as “evidence that genetics play some part in the differences in how often cancer occurs in different racial groups.”

The work is claimed to be the largest, most diverse genetic analysis ever conducted for prostate cancer, if not cancer generally. It brought together data from multiple genomic prostate cancer studies from around the world covering more than 200,000 men of European, African, Asian and Hispanic ancestry. The authors identified 86 new genetic variations that increase prostate cancer risk, bringing the total number of genetic risk variants to 269.

Working toward risk scores…

The long-term goal of the work is to develop a genetic risk score for prostate cancer that could be useful in personalized risk prediction, according to author Christopher Haiman, ScD, professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC  and director of the USC Center for Genetic Epidemiology.

“We not only found new markers of risk, but also demonstrated that, by combining genetic information across populations, we were able to identify a risk profile that can be applied across populations,” Haiman said in a Keck School news release. “This emphasizes the value of adding multiple racial and ethnic populations into genetic studies.”

… and better treatment

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in men in the U.S., and the 4th most common tumor diagnosed worldwide, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Approximately 1 in 8 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. For men of African descent, it’s 1 in 7. In 2021, nearly 249,000 U.S. men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 34,000 will die from the disease. That’s one new case diagnosed every 3 minutes and another death from prostate cancer every 15 minutes.

Better risk assessment could enhance the utility of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which has been blamed for unnecessary treatment of slow-growing tumors, according to the Keck School news release: “The PSA test’s value as a screening tool would grow if it were deployed selectively to monitor people found to be at high risk for prostate cancer — which is where the genetic risk score could come into play. Those at particularly high risk might even begin screening before age 55.”

This work is just one example of the value of genome-wide association studies, which typically begin with a blood or sample or cheek swab – biospecimens that iSpecimen can provide on demand through the iSpecimen Marketplace.

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