A method has been developed to identify aggressive prostate cancers that require immediate therapy. This method relies on understanding the genetic interaction between single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Its goal is to better predict a prostate cancer’s aggressiveness to avoid unnecessary radical treatment.

Prostate cancer accounts for 20% of all cancers and 9% of cancer deaths, explained a team of researchers from Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer and was the second-leading cause of cancer death among American men in 2012.

“For most prostate cancer patients, the disease progresses relatively slowly,” said study coauthor Hui-Yi Lin, PhD, assistant member of the Chemical Biology and Molecular Medicine Program at Moffitt. “However, some cases grow aggressively and metastasize. It is often difficult to tell the difference between the two.”

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The two treatment options for aggressive prostate cancer, which are radical surgery and radiation therapy, have negative side effects such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction. These concerns led the authors to believe that there is an urgent need for biomarkers to identify or predict aggressive types of prostate cancer.

Through examining combinations of genetic variants, or SNP-SNP interactions, the researchers identified and validated several genetic changes related to prostate cancer aggressiveness. Their work also shows that the epithelial growth factor receptor may be the hub for these interactions because it is involved in the growth of blood vessels (angiogenesis), which in turn stimulates tumor growth. This study was published in PLOS One (2013; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059688).

“Our findings identified five SNP-SNP interactions in the angiogenesis genes associated with prostate cancer aggressiveness,” explained study coauthor Jong Y. Park, PhD, associate member of Moffitt’s Cancer Epidemiology Program. “We successfully detected the genotype combinations that put patients at risk of aggressive prostate cancer and then explored the underlying biological associations among angiogenesis genes associated with aggressive prostate cancer.”

The researchers concluded that the gene network they constructed based on SNP-SNP interactions indicates there are novel relationships among critical genes involved in the angiogenesis pathway in prostate cancer.

“Our findings will help physicians identify patients with an aggressive type of prostate cancer and may lead to better personalized treatment in the future,” Park said.