Prostate cancer ‘gene test’ hope

9 February 2011 Last updated at 07:41

Prostate cancer ‘gene test’ hope

Experts believe they can develop a genetic screening test that can tell doctors which men with prostate cancer need aggressive treatment.

Early trial results for Cancer Research UK suggest men with high levels of cell cycle progression (CCP) genes have the most deadly tumours.

The CCP test could potentially save men with milder forms of the disease from unnecessary treatment

Large-scale studies are now needed, the Lancet Oncology journal reports.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, with new cases diagnosed in around 37,000 men every year.

At present, doctors can struggle to predict how aggressive tumours are and rely on tests and examinations that can be less than reliable.

For example, one of the tests currently used – the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test – can give a worrying result even if a cancer is not present.
Cancer Research UK estimates that about two-thirds of men with an elevated PSA level (measured as > 4ng/ml) will not have prostate cancer but will suffer the anxiety, discomfort and risk of follow-up investigations.

It’s for this very reason that UK experts have recommended against a screening programme for prostate cancer.

But experts from Queen Mary, University of London, hope their new CCP test – alongside existing tests like PSA – could be used routinely in the clinic to overcome this problem.

Greater accuracy

Professor Jack Cuzick, who led the research, said: “Our findings have great potential. CCP genes are expressed at higher levels in actively growing cells, so we could be indirectly measuring the growth rate and inherent aggressiveness of the tumour through our test.

“We already know that CCP levels can predict survival for breast and, more recently, brain and lung cancers.

“It’s really encouraging that this could also be applied to prostate cancer, where we desperately need a way to predict how aggressive the disease will be.”

His study, which included 703 men with prostate cancer, found CCP could predict likely disease outcomes.

In the study, men with the highest levels of CCP genes were three times more likely than those with the lowest levels to have a fatal form of prostate cancer.

And for patients who have had surgery to remove their prostate, those with the highest CCP levels were 70% more likely to have a recurrence of the disease.

Dr Helen Rippon, head of research management at the Prostate Cancer Charity, said the findings were promising but needed replicating in larger trials before the test could be considered for routine use.

“It will therefore be some time before men diagnosed with prostate cancer will see any direct benefit from this research,” she said.

Britain faces dementia catastrophe without ‘aggressive’ research drive

Britain faces dementia catastrophe without ‘aggressive’ research drive

Britain faces a “dementia catastrophe” unless Alzheimer’s is tackled with the same aggression as the fight against Aids, charities are warning.
By Martin Beckford, Health Correspondent 12:01AM GMT 09 Feb 2011

More people fear being diagnosed with the debilitating brain condition above anything else than fear cancer or death itself, research shows.

A million people in Britain will suffer some form of dementia within two decades, and one in three pensioners will die with it, figures suggest.

Yet 12 times as much is spent each year on cancer research, and there are six times as many scientists working on how to treat tumours. Currently, as many as two-thirds of people who develop dementia are never diagnosed while the best treatments can only help reduce symptoms and cannot prevent the degenerative disease progressing.

At the launch of a campaign by Alzheimer’s Research UK to increase the “pitifully low” investment in dementia, Sir Terry Pratchett, the author, said: “Alzheimer’s is a large number of small tragedies usually played out behind closed doors, so in spite of the numbers living with it, the world still doesn’t take much notice.

“When the world was shocked by HIV in the Eighties, we saw a crash programme of research which has helped tame it enormously. We need the same kind of aggressive action on dementia now.” He is the charity’s patron and has early onset Alzheimer’s.

Currently 820,000 people in Britain are thought to suffer dementia, progressively losing their memory and struggling to cope with everyday activities. The most common cause is Alzheimer’s disease.

A million people are likely to develop the condition within the next 15 years as the population ages and 1.7 million will be living with it by 2051, placing a significant burden on informal carers, the NHS and care homes.

A YouGov poll of more than 2,000 people found that 31 per cent feared dementia the most as they grow older, compared with 27 per cent who were most scared of cancer and 18 per cent who feared death itself more than anything. Alzheimer’s Research UK, formerly known as the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, reckons that dementia costs the economy £23 billion a year, more than cancer (£12 billion) and heart disease (£8 billion) combined.

Yet it says only £50 million a year is spent searching for better diagnoses and treatments, compared with £590 million spent on cancer research and £169  million on heart disease.

Researchers are trying to perfect a simple blood test for Alzheimer’s, as early diagnosis is likely to lead to better management of the condition.

Several types of drug exist to help sufferers but they only treat the symptoms while the process of brain degeneration continues. Alzheimer’s Research is now appealing to the public, ministers and private companies to help increase investment.

Rebecca Wood, its chief executive, said: “Public concern around dementia is at an all-time high, yet dementia research is still the poor relation.

“We have such brilliant research talent in the UK which could make real inroads into defeating dementia with more support.”

She said that the charity funded hundreds of leading scientists with the help of public donations, but that even combined with government spending the effort still lagged far behind that made against other diseases.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of The Alzheimer’s Society, added: “Dementia is the biggest challenge facing the UK and people are right to be worried. It is a devastating condition that robs people of their lives. Yet with the right treatments and support it is possible to live well with dementia. We must gear up to tackle this challenge by investing in research and support or else face a dementia catastrophe.”

Paul Burstow, the care services minister, agreed. He promised government help for research into its “care, cure and cause”.

He added: “The Department of Health’s research budget is nearly £1 billion this year – I want more of that funding to be supporting dementia research. But we can only do that if the number and quality of the research proposals are of the right standard to justify the investment.”

‘Sat nav’ cancer device at Merseyside centre

‘Sat nav’ cancer device at Merseyside centre

About 800 patients are due to benefit from the machine at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in its first year.

A groundbreaking radiotherapy device which could transform the way some cancer patients are treated goes into service on Merseyside later.

The Novalis Tx machine will allow doctors to treat tumours almost anywhere in the body in one session.

It uses a system similar to a ‘sat nav’ to destroy cancerous cells but helps to protect surrounding healthy tissue.

About 800 patients are due to benefit from the machine at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in its first year.

Dr Brian Haylock, consultant oncologist and clinical director for radiotherapy, said: “Unlike some other highly specialised radiation treatment machines, the Novalis Tx can treat many different types of cancer all over the body allowing us to treat more cancer patients with a single device.

“This coupled with the speed with which we can treat patients – in some cases in as little as 15 minutes in just one session – means the equipment will be available for the benefit of more patients here in the UK.”

‘Inspirational stuff’
The machines will also go into service at two other centres in Manchester and Edinburgh.

Almost 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every year.

Recent estimates show that of those, almost 50,000 people develop either primary or secondary brain tumours.

Sue Farrington-Smith, director of Brain Tumour Research, said: “We are delighted that advanced brain tumour treatments like the Novalis Tx are now available to cancer patients on the NHS.

“The work of Clatterbridge and The Walton Centre Trusts in Liverpool will undoubtedly provide the best cancer care for their patients. This is inspirational stuff.”