Researchers identified new cancers in more than a third who were found to have the highest level of inherited risk. It was the first time genetic screening was used to assess prostate cancer risk and could lead to a more effective screening programme.
Study leader Ros Eeles, professor of Oncogenetics at The Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: “A man’s risk of prostate cancer is determined in part by which combination of at least 170 different genetic changes they happen to inherit.
“Our pilot study assessed men’s genetic risk by testing for more than 130 genetic changes.”
They were able to identify prostate cancers in seven of the 18 apparently healthy men who were found to have the highest risk levels.
Researchers also looked at how aggressive the cancers of those within the top 10 percent of the genetic score were.
All seven prostate cancers turned out to be manageable by active surveillance, with a mean prostate-specific antigen (PSA) score of 1.8 – a level between zero and 2.5 is considered safe.
The Institute and London’s The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust worked with GPs to invite more than 307 men aged between 55 and 69 to participate in screening.
Patient Remy Smits, 59, said: “Although I met the criteria for joining, I did not think I would be in the highrisk group. I had a PSA test not long before and it was relatively low (2.1) so I was surprised when I got called back. “They detected cancer the size of a grain of sand which is remarkable. While the cancer came as a shock, I feel better knowing it has been identified at a very early stage.”
A full pilot study, called Barcode1, will involve 5,000 patients from 70 GP practices.
The findings were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology virtual annual meeting.
Professor Paul Workman, of The Institute, said: “It’s vital that we find ways of putting our increased knowledge of the genetics and biology of cancer to work not only to find new treatments, but also to identify targeted methods for early detection.
“This larger-scale pilot, if successful could show the potential of genetic screening to be a lifesaver.”
The Royal Marsden’s Professor David Cunningham, said: “Earlier and faster diagnosis is often the key to successfully treating cancer.
“Using genetic screening for men most at risk for prostate cancer will mean less invasive procedures and fewer side-effects.”