Genetic Variants May Be Driving Early-Onset Prostate Cancer

Genetics may be to blame for an increase in the number of young men diagnosed with prostate cancer, researchers say.

Kathleen A. Cooney, MD

Genetics may be to blame for an increase in the number of young men diagnosed with prostate cancer, researchers say.

According to a new analysis from researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, the number of men under the age of 70 diagnosed with prostate cancer has increased nearly six-fold in the last 20 years.

The analysis also found that men with early onset prostate cancer had more genetic variants than men diagnosed with prostate cancer at a later age. The disease is also more likely to be aggressive in these younger men.

“Early onset prostate cancer tends to be aggressive, striking down men in the prime of their life. These fast-growing tumors in young men might be entirely missed by screening because the timeframe is short before they start to show clinical symptoms,” Kathleen A. Cooney, MD, professor of internal medicine and urology at the University of Michigan, said in a statement.

Cooney and Scott Tomlins, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology at U-M, are leading a new study supported by the US Department of Defense to look at DNA of both normal and cancerous prostate tissue of men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer before age 61.

American men have a 16% risk of developing prostate cancer in their lifetime, but only a 3% lifetime risk of dying from it. The challenge, Cooney said, is understanding which subset of prostate cancers is most likely to be aggressive and deadly.

“The unexpectedly poor prognosis of advanced-stage, early-onset prostate cancer supports the idea that a new clinical subtype might exist in the subset of men with early-onset prostate cancer. This subtype is more aggressive and requires more specialty expertise, including genetic sequencing,” Cooney said.