Genetic mutation tied to increased prostate cancer risk in African-American and Latino men

African-American and Latino men who carry a simple genetic mutation have a five times greater risk of developing prostate cancer than do men without the mutation, University of Southern California researchers say in the Sept. 18 issue of The Lancet.

"This is the first mutation directly associated with prostate cancer," says Juergen Reichardt, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology and the Institute for Genetic Medicine (IGM) at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. "There have been hints and suggestions before, but this study really spells it out."

Nearly 40,000 men died from prostate cancer in the United States in 1998 alone; more than 179,000 will be diagnosed with the disease this year. In addition, the incidence of prostate cancer is substantially higher in African-American men than in Caucasian men, and their death rate is twice that of Caucasians with the same diagnosis.

Pinning down this genetic mutation, says Reichardt, may help reverse that trend. "If we can identify men at risk presymptomatically, we might be able to better treat them and get a better outcome," he notes.

The finding also sheds some light on a medical mystery that plagues physicians treating prostate cancer: the most promising drug being investigated as a treatment for the disease -- finasteride, or Proscar -- fails in a certain percentage of men. "We found out that the drug does not work particularly well in men who have the mutation we discovered," says Reichardt. "This may help us screen out those who are likely to respond poorly to the drug." In addition, he says, it may allow them to develop drugs with a broader spectrum of use, "ones that don't care whether you have a normal or mutant enzyme."

How does this mutation increase a man's risk of prostate cancer? For some time now, researchers have known that prostate cancer is androgen-dependent -- in other words, that it can feed off of male hormones like testosterone in m

Contact: Lori Oliwenstein
University of Southern California

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