Promises about yet another genetic test for prostate cancer risk


According to a media release issued earlier today by the University of California San Diego Health System, a paper just published on line in European Urology describes how “a team of researchers … have developed a genetic test to predict a man’s risk for prostate cancer. Use of the test could reduce the need for repeat biopsies in men who have had a negative biopsy.”

Unfortunately, access to the actual paper is impossible (even in abstract form) because European Urology limits access to its papers only to members of the European Association for Urology (EAU).

Having said that, we shall note immediately that the media release is carefully hedged with words like “may” and “could”, so it is impossible to tell whether this supposed new test is of any real clinical significance. In the media release, Dr. Karder of UCSD is quoted as stating the following:

The genetic test outperformed the PSA test in assessing cancer risk …. If results of this blood test were factored into prostate cancer predictors such as total … PSA, free PSA, number of core samples taken at biopsy, and family history, we would have a more accurate picture of a whether or not a man is likely to develop the sometimes fatal disease.

Such information would clearly not help us to tell whether a patient actually had clinically significant or indolent disease, which is the key piece of information we really need to know in relation to the diagnosis of prostate cancer in an individual patient. It is by no means a bad thing to be able to reduce the number of biopsies given each year, so it will be interesting to see if this genetic test rally can do what the research team is claiming.

The studies leading to the development of this test are based on data and specimens collected as part of the 1,654-patient Reduction by Dutasteride of Prostate Cancer Events (REDUCE) clinical trial.

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