A leading cancer expert at the University of Cambridge and her team have discovered that the presence of a specific protein can distinguish between prostate cancers that are aggressive and need further treatment, from those that may never seriously harm the patient.
After years of trying to unlock the secret of which prostate cancers are life-threatening – sometimes referred to as ‘tigers’ -- and which are essentially harmless ‘pussycats’, Hayley Whitaker’s discovery could revolutionise how doctors treat the disease, a university release said.
The study, published in the journal Oncogene, found much higher levels of the protein, NAALADL2, in prostate cancer tissue compared with healthy tissue. The difference was especially marked in aggressive prostate cancer tumours and cancer cells that had already spread around the body.
Lead author Whitaker, cancer research scientist at the University of Cambridge, said: “This is early research, but if clinical trials confirm our results then it could help clinicians to tell which patients have a more aggressive tumour and need proportionally aggressive treatment, while sparing patients with low grade tumours unnecessary radiotherapy or surgery.”
She added: “This is an important step along the path to developing a much-sought after test that could distinguish between different types of prostate cancer.”
The team confirmed in two independent patient groups that the protein could be used to diagnose prostate cancer, the university release said.
But, more importantly, it found that high levels of the protein could potentially pinpoint those patients with aggressive disease who would need surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Patients with lower levels of the protein were more likely to need monitoring rather than treatment.