Public Release: 

Prostate cancer is 5 different diseases

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK scientists have for the first time identified that there are five distinct types of prostate cancer and found a way to distinguish between them, according to a landmark study* published today in EBioMedicine.

The findings could have important implications for how doctors treat prostate cancer in the future, by identifying tumours that are more likely to grow and spread aggressively through the body.

The researchers, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Addenbrooke's Hospital, studied samples of healthy and cancerous prostate tissue from more than 250 men.

By looking for abnormal chromosomes and measuring the activity of 100 different genes linked to the disease they were able to group the tumours into five distinct types, each with a characteristic genetic fingerprint.

This analysis was better at predicting which cancers were likely to be the most aggressive than the tests currently used by doctors - including the PSA test** and Gleason score. But, the findings need to be confirmed in clinical trials with larger groups of men.

Study author Dr Alastair Lamb, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: "Our exciting results show that prostate cancer can be classified into five genetically-different types. These findings could help doctors decide on the best course of treatment for each individual patient, based on the characteristics of their tumour.

"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 most common cancer in men in the UK, with around 41,700 cases diagnosed every year. There are around 10,800 deaths from the disease each year in the UK.

Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research UK's prostate cancer expert, said: "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. 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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For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

Notes to editor:

*Ross-Adams et al. Integration of copy number and transcriptomics provides risk stratification in prostate cancer: a discovery and validation cohort study. EBioMedicine. DOI: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2015.07.017.

This work was funded by Cancer Research UK with support from Prostate Cancer UK.

**http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/prostate-cancer/about/screening-for-prostate-cancer

About Prostate Cancer UK and Men United

  • Men deserve better. Men United is Prostate Cancer UK's movement for everyone who believes that men are worth fighting for, to help us beat prostate cancer and keep friendships alive. Some 230,000 people have engaged with Men United since 2014.

  • This summer Men United has tons of fun ways for people to see their mates, from bike rides, sponsored walks, BBQs and quiz nights - all whilst doing something great for Prostate Cancer UK.

  • Search Men United, or visit prostatecanceruk.org/menunited

  • Prostate Cancer UK works to get men in all areas of the country the early detection, effective diagnosis and better treatments that will beat this disease.

  • Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. More than 10,000 men die every year from this male-only disease, and 330,000 men are living with and after prostate cancer in the UK.

  • Anyone with concerns about prostate cancer can contact Prostate Cancer UK's Specialist Nurses in confidence on 0800 074 8383 or via the online Live chat, instant messaging service: http://www.prostatecanceruk.org. The Specialist Nurse phone service is free to landlines and open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday with late opening until 8pm on Wednesdays.

About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world's leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.

  • Cancer Research UK's pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.

  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.

  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years.

  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK's ambition is to accelerate progress so that 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years within the next 20 years.

  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.

  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit http://www.cancerresearchuk.org. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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