Simple Saliva Test Could Identify Men at Greatest Risk of Prostate Cancer

Scientists say a new test using saliva samples can identify those men at greatest risk of developing prostate cancer. (iStock)

A team of scientists at London's Institute of Cancer Research have developed a "spit test" that can be used to identify men most likely to develop prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in U.S. men.

About 1 in 9 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point, according to the American Cancer Society. 

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Genetics, identified the 1 percent of men with the highest genetic risk for prostate cancer.  This group is nearly six times more likely to develop prostate cancer than the general population, according to the study.

Researchers, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, utilized a new DNA analysis method to study the genes of more than 70,000 people. They looked at 150 DNA markers and found that the top 10 percent of men at highest risk for prostate cancer were found to  nearly three times the risk of developing the disease. From Gizmodo:

Some 45,000 of the subjects had already developed prostate cancer, while 25,000 hadn’t. So the researchers compared the two groups, singling out any inherited genetic variations that might have contributed to their cancer risk.

Based on this data, the study said that researchers discovered 63 new variants that have previously not been associated with prostate cancer. Rosalind Eeles, a geneticist and co-author of the study, said those men found to be at greater genetic risk can receive proper screenings.

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“The reason we are particularly excited by the test is that this can be offered in general practice as a spit test to really try and identify who is most at risk of prostate cancer so we can offer them targeted screening,” Eeles told The Guardian.

Most men diagnosed with the disease do not die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.  Risk factors include family history, advanced age, and those of African descent.

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About 6 in 10 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older. From Gizmodo:

In the US, people over the age of 50 are generally screened for prostate cancer via the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test...But the saliva test could reveal especially high-risk people who need annual screening regardless of their PSA level.

Researchers now plan a trial run of the new test at a limited number of clinics to help devise treatments that could reduce cases of prostate cancer among this high-risk group.

"We are on the cusp of moving from theory to practice -- from explaining how genetics affect prostate cancer risk, to testing for genetic risk and attempting to prevent the disease," Paul Workman, chief executive at The Institute of Cancer Research, said in a statement. "This study also gives us important information about the causes of prostate cancer and the potential role of the immune system, which could ultimately be employed in the design of new treatments."

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