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Five types of prostate cancer identified in landmark study

There are five distinct types of prostate cancer and a way to distinguish between them, Cancer Research UK scientists found.

The landmark study could have important implications for how doctors treat prostate cancer in the future, by identifying tumours that are more likely to grow and spread aggressively through the body.

This could replace the PSA (prostate specific antigen) test or Gleason test in the future, researchers suggested, as it was “was better at predicting which cancers were likely to be the most aggressive than the tests currently used by doctors”.

Study author Dr Alastair Lamb, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: “These findings could help doctors decide on the best course of treatment for each individual patient, based on the characteristics of their tumour.”

The controversial PSA test is described by NHS choices as “unreliable” and that “they can suggest prostate cancer when no cancer exists (a false-positive result)” meaning many men “often have invasive and sometimes painful biopsies for no reason”.

The researchers, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Addenbrooke's Hospital, studied samples of healthy and cancerous prostate tissue from more than 250 men.

They looked for abnormal chromosomes and measured the activity of 100 different genes linked to the disease, so they could group the tumours into five distinct types, each with a distinct genetic fingerprint.

This analysis was “better at predicting which cancers were likely to be the most aggressive than the tests currently used by doctors”, researchers said - including the PSA test and Gleason score, but, the findings need to be confirmed in clinical trials with larger groups of men.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, with around 41,700 cases diagnosed every year. There are around 10,800 deaths from the disease each year in the UK.

 “By carrying out more research into how the different diseases behave we might be able to develop more effective ways to treat prostate cancer patients in the future, saving more lives,” Lamb added.