Prostate cancer isn’t one disease, it’s five

After suicide and heart disease, prostate cancer is one of the most common causes of death for men in Britain. Around 41,000 cases are diagnosed every year, resulting in over 10,000 deaths.

New research published in EBioMedicine has found that there are five distinct types of prostate cancer. The findings, made by scientists working with Cancer Research UK, could change the way the disease is treated in the future.

The researchers studied samples of prostate tissue from over 250 men. They were able to identify five unique genetic ‘fingerprints’, representing different forms of the cancer.

The study’s lead author, Dr Alastair Lamb, believes this will benefit patients in the future. ‘Our exciting results show that prostate cancer can be classified into five genetically different types,’ he says. ‘These findings could help doctors decide on the best course of treatment for each individual patient, based on the characteristics of their tumour.

‘The next step is to confirm these results in bigger studies and drill down into the molecular “nuts and bolts” of each specific prostate cancer type. 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.’

Following a diagnosis of prostate cancer the prognosis for any two patients can vary dramatically. It can develop slowly over decades, or aggressively in a matter of weeks. This research helps to explain why, and the researchers behind it hope that their findings will lead to more effective treatments in either case.