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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June, 2004, 23:28 GMT 00:28 UK
Prostate cancer gene identified
prostate images
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men
Scientists have identified a gene which could identify how aggressive a man's prostate cancer will be.

The research, by experts at the Institute of Cancer Research Everyman Centre, should lead to a test to identify aggressive cancers.

The E2F3 gene may also act as a focus for the development of drugs to treat prostate cancer, the most common to affect UK men, the researchers say.

The findings will be published in the journal Oncogene.

Twenty-seven thousand prostate cases are diagnosed each year and the disease kills 10,000 men a year.

By the age of 65 many men will have some cancer cells in the prostate, but most can live out their natural span without the disease ever causing them any ill effects.

And treatment can leave men impotent and incontinent.

'Crucial role'

At the moment, doctors use the PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test to spot prostate cancer. But while raised levels of the PSA protein can indicate prostate cancer, they can also indicate less serious conditions, such as an inflamed prostate.

A test to distinguish between aggressive tumours, the tigers, and those that are pussycats has been the holy grail of prostate cancer research
Professor Colin Cooper, Institute of Cancer Research
It also cannot show if a cancer is slow or fast growing.

In this study, researchers studied a gene called E2F3.

Earlier studies have shown that E2F3, and the protein it produces, play a role in the development of bladder cancer.

The protein produced by the E2F3 gene plays a crucial role in all human cells by controlling cell division.

In the prostate cancer cells, the overactive E2F3 gene means that too much of the protein is produced, leading to excessive cell proliferation and the development of a tumour.

The scientists measured the amount of E2F3 protein in the prostate samples from 147 men to see how much of the E2F3 protein was present in each cell.

They found there was none present in the healthy prostate cells, suggesting the gene was not switched on in these cells, but E2F3 was present in 67% of prostate cancer cells.

And researchers found that the higher the level of the protein, the more aggressive the cancer, researchers said.

They are now developing a test which could be used to spot which patients are most at risk.

'Unnecessary treatment'

Professor Colin Cooper, who led the study, told BBC News Online: "This is really exciting, because it could potentially act as a marker that could be used for the diagnosis of early prostate cancers."

He added: "A test to distinguish between aggressive tumours, the tigers, and those that are pussycats has been the holy grail of prostate cancer research.

"Many thousands of men are being given invasive treatments that they do not require, but we have been unable to distinguish them from the men who urgently need life saving treatment.

"Now we know that the E2F3 gene is implicated in prostate cancer and that it is key in determining how aggressive the cancer is, we hope to be able to develop such a test within the next five years."

Professor Peter Rigby, chief executive at The Institute of Cancer Research, said: "We now find ourselves in the unique and exciting position of being able to test new early markers of prostate cancer progression, which previously had not been possible.

"A rapid and immediate expansion of our research in this area is required so that our scientific advances can be translated into patient benefit without delay."

Shaun O'Leary, of the Prostate Cancer Charity, welcomed the research.

He said: "Currently men diagnosed with prostate cancer have no way of telling how quickly their prostate cancer is growing and spreading.

"The discovery of this gene means we can start to understand why some cancer cells grow more quickly and lead to aggressive forms of prostate cancer."

Faulty gene fuels bladder cancer
23 May 04  |  Health
Men 'wait to check cancer signs'
25 May 04  |  Health

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