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Prostate Cancer Gene Test Coming Soon

Test Screens for 5 Genetic Variants and Will Be Available in Months, Researchers Say
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 16, 2008 -- Scientists at Wake Forest University plan to start offering a new gene test for prostate cancer risk within months.

The test screens men's blood or saliva samples for five genetic variants linked to prostate cancer. Once those blood or saliva samples arrive at the researchers' lab, the test takes about a week.

"The genetic findings in our paper can be used now, and we plan to make the test available in the next few months," says Jianfeng Xu, MD, DrPH, of Wake Forest's Center for Human Genomics, in a statement from Wake Forest University.

Xu's team describes the test in today's advance online edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Prostate Cancer Gene Test

Xu and colleagues identified the five genetic variants based on blood samples from on more than 4,600 Swedish men, including nearly 2,900 prostate cancer patients.

The goal was to see if those variants could identify the prostate cancer patients. Each variant, by itself, was so-so at that task. But together, the variants did a better job.

For instance, prostate cancer patients were up to five times more likely to have at least four of the variants.

Family history drove those odds higher. Prostate cancer patients with a family history of prostate cancer were more than nine times as likely to have at least four variants.

The findings are "further evidence that prostate cancer has complex and multifactorial origins," writes editorialist Edward Gelmann, MD, of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at New York's Columbia University.

Who Should Get the Prostate Cancer Gene Test?

In the journal, Xu's team cautions that more work is needed "to test the value of these findings in assessing the risk of prostate cancer in individual men."

In his statement, Xu explains why the test will be made available anyway.

"We plan to offer the test now because we believe that some men and their physicians will want to take advantage of these findings -- knowing the test will be refined over time," says Xu.

Xu -- who co-founded Proactive Genomics, the company that will offer the test -- doesn't yet know which men are the best candidates for the test.

"It is premature to make specific recommendations on who should get the test, but we believe it will be especially beneficial to men who have marginally elevated PSA [prostate specific antigen] levels and men who have a family history of prostate cancer," says Xu.

The test only focuses on those five gene variants, not any other genes that may affect prostate cancer risk. So it's not guaranteed to be a foolproof check of a man's prostate cancer risk. And Gelmann notes in his editorial that the test isn't perfect and may falsely classify some men as being at high risk of prostate cancer, so further studies are needed.

Wake Forest University holds a patent on the gene test, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center spokeswoman Karen Richardson tells WebMD.

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