Could a genetic health test for prostate cancer help prevent the disease? If you thought breast cancer was probably the type of cancer that causes most deaths, think again. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in the USA after lung cancer and the also the most common in the UK. Breast cancer, caused by similar genes and just like prostate cancer, also influenced by hormones, is of course also fairly common amongst women but very rarely seen amongst males. Like with all diseases and especially cancer, the key to successful treatment is early diagnosis.
The Prostate gland
The prostate gland is located just below the bladder. The urethra, a tube structure that carries semen and urine, passes right through it. This gland plays a very important role in that it balances the PH of semen by producing prostatic fluid, an alkaline substance that neutralizes the acidity caused by the passage of urine. Without this buffering substance, the sperm cells would be killed by the acidity of the urine left behind in the duct as well as by the traces of urine inside the vagina.
The prostate gland tends to sometimes increase in size with age but in young males it is usually the size of a walnut. If the gland swells or grows, pressure might be exerted on the urethra causing the characteristic difficulty in urinating experiences amongst men with enlarged prostates.
Most cases of prostate cancer start from one type of cell making up the prostate gland (although there are other types of cancers caused by other types of cells forming this gland). If the cancer is caused by gland cells, the most common type of prostate cancer, it is referred to as adenocarcinoma. The beginning of this cancer can be traced back to Prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) here essentially, tiny changes begin to take place in the cells forming the prostate. The cells might begin to pack together in a different way or the cell nuclei will begin to have varying shapes and sizes. If cancer results, the doctor will need to assess how much it has grown, how fast it is growing or whether the growth has stopped and whether the growth has spread to other cells.
In the USA, the number one killer cancer is lung cancer and next is prostate cancer. Although this fact is somewhat worrying, you might be relieved to know that most men who get diagnosed with prostate cancer do not actually die of it. This is also because this cancer not only strikes later in life but is also slow at progressing and thus, men sometimes die of old age without even knowing they had prostate cancer.
If your doctor suspects you might have prostate cancer, he or she might ask some basic questions to see whether further testing is required. Many males with prostate cancer exhibit very much the same symptoms which include: difficult urinating, pains (usually in bones), frequent urinating, blood in urine and discomfort when ejaculating. Predisposition testing for this type of cancer is also now available by many companies including homeDNAdirect Australia, easyDNA and The Genetic Testing Laboratory.
Before conducting a biopsy, a DRE (digital rectal exam) may have to be carried out followed by a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test. The DRE is a rather dreaded experience for most men where the doctor inserts a finger up the rectum to feel the prostate. Lubricant is used to ensure the insertion of the finger causes less pain or discomfort.
Genetics of Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is far from being rare. This cancer has a hereditary component and tends to run in families. If you have a direct male, blood relative who has suffered from prostate cancer you might have inherited those genes giving you an increased risk of developing the disease when compared to males who did not inherit those same genes. In monozygotic twins the incidence rate is even higher.
The two genes involved in cancer of the prostate are the very same genes which are responsible for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. These genes are known as BRCA 1 and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 1 and breast cancer gene 2). To note that we all have the BRCA genes but it is only certain mutations on these genes that are responsible for breast cancer or prostate cancer. Healthy BRCA genes help control tumors and are in fact known as tumor suppressor genes because they produce certain proteins which suppress any abnormal cell growths. Mutations may result in the gene not to play out its proper function and thus, allow any growths to keep progressing uncontrolled.
A genetic predisposition test for prostate cancer can help to establish the chances the person has of developing prostate cancer. These tests are indeed useful as they can help determine an individual's risk factor. Following the results of a DNA test, you can work hand in hand with a genetic councilor to see what exactly can be done to try and keep the disease at check and make required lifestyle changes. For example, prostate cancer has been linked to the use of anti-inflammatory medication. Have you been using such medications long-term?
Are there any factors which could increase your chances of prostate cancer that you can control? Here are some of those factors:
- Being overweight/ chances worsening with obesity
- Males who have suffered from gonorrhea
- High saturated fat and diary product diet