Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have come up with a genetic test that may help take the guesswork out of which prostate cancers will become dangerous.
"We were able to identify accurately 14 out of 14 patients that developed harmful tumors," said Dr. Cory Abate-Shen, who led the study.
Her team found that three genes associated with aging were able to determine which lesions will become aggressive. The darker the staining on the patient's biopsy, the better.
"If you have the markers you're OK. If you don't have the markers, we have to keep an eye on you," Abate-Shen said.
About 200,000 prostate cancers are diagnosed each year. Most are slow-growing and will never need treatment. But a small percentage will become aggressive.
Low-risk patients currently have two choices. They can undergo treatment that comes with serious side effects, including incontinence and impotence, or patients can be monitored, but run the risk of it spreading.
"If we could be more assured as to saying to someone we don't think your cancer has aggressive potential, again, that's going to have a huge impact on men who are facing this very difficult decision," said Dr. Mitchell Benson of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia.
A larger study of the test is being planned.
Researchers say if the findings hold up, the test would not replace other diagnostic tools but would work in conjunction with them.