Aggressive prostate cancer linked to ancestral heritage

Two pioneering studies published simultaneously today in Nature and Genome Medicine, have identified genetic signatures explaining ethnic differences in the severity of prostate cancer, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Through genetic sequencing of prostate cancer tumours from Australian, Brazilian and South African donors, the team identified a new prostate cancer taxonomy (classification scheme) and cancer drivers that not only distinguish patients by genetic ancestry, but also predict which cancers are likely to become life-threatening — a task that currently proves challenging.

“Our understanding of prostate cancer has been severely limited by a research focus on Western populations,”said senior author Professor Vanessa Hayes, genomicist and Petre Chair of Prostate Cancer Research at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health in Australia.

“Being of African descent, or from Africa, more than doubles a man’s risk for lethal prostate cancer. While genomics holds a critical key to unravelling contributing genetic and non-genetic factors, data for Africa has till now, been lacking.”

“Prostate cancer is the silent killer in our region,” said University of Pretoria’s Professor Riana Bornman, an international expert in men’s health and clinical lead for the Southern African Prostate Cancer Study in South Africa.

“We had to start with a grassroots approach, engaging communities with open discussion, establishing the infrastructure for African inclusion in the genomic revolution, while determining the true extent of prostate disease.”

Through sophisticated whole genome sequencing (a way of mapping the entire genetic code of cancer cells), over two million cancer-specific genomic variants were identified in 183 untreated prostate tumours from men living across the three study regions.

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