London, Feb 11 : British and Australian scientists have achieved a major genetic breakthrough in the understanding of prostate cancer, paving the way for new tests and treatments for the disease.
The scientists say that they have found seven new sites in the human genome that are linked to a man's risk of developing prostate cancer.
According to them, their discovery may pave the way for treatments targeting specific genes, and a much-needed screening test for the disease.
The scientists say that each of the genetic alterations their latest study has revealed may increase a man's chances of developing prostate cancer by up to 60 per cent.
Although they called their findings "exciting", they clarified that more research was needed before they were translated into benefits for patients.
During the study, funded by Cancer Research UK, a team of researchers led by Dr Ros Eeles studied the genetic make-up of more than 10,000 men.
Based on their observations, the researchers came to the conclusion that a gene called MSMB could be used in screening for prostate cancer and monitoring of the disease. They also identified another area of the genome that harbours a gene called LMTK2, which may be a new target for treatments.
Scientists believe that various different factors affect the development of prostate cancer, and that particular combinations of genes may play a major role in the disease.
The new study, claims the research team, represents the largest number of genetic risk factors found in one genome-wide cancer study so far.
"These exciting results will help us to more accurately calculate the risk of developing prostate cancer and may lead to the development of better targeted screening and treatment. It will be genetic profiling to actually target who should be offered screening, and what sort of treatment people should be offered," the Scotsman quoted Eeles as telling Nature Genetics.
Professor Doug Easton, director of Cancer Research UK's genetic epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge, said: "In comparison with other cancers, such as breast and lung cancer, we understand little about how prostate cancer develops. These results will greatly improve our knowledge of this important disease."
According to Dr Chris Hiley, from the Prostate Cancer Charity, the new research would advance the understanding of the disease, but warned that practical benefits may take years to materialize.