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Breakthrough DNA research reveals genetic risks for prostate, breast and ovarian cancers

APCRC-Q researchers Prof Judith Clements, Dr Jyotsna Batra and PhD student Srilakshmi Srinivasan recently contributed to a genetic variation study that was published in Nature Genetics. The publication identified more than 80 genetic variations that can increase a person's risk of prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers.

APCRC-Q researchers Prof Judith Clements, Dr Jyotsna Batra and PhD student Srilakshmi Srinivasan recently contributed to a genetic variation study that was published in Nature Genetics.  The publication identified more than 80 genetic variations that can increase a person's risk of prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers.

The study results, released on Thursday 28 March 2013, explain how each genetic variation increased the risk of developing cancer by a small amount, and demonstrated how the cancer risk multiplied significantly with the number of variations within a person's DNA.

Largest and first genetic study of its type

This study was one of the largest-ever of its type and marked the first attempt to identify genetic variations associated with the risk of these cancers in a very large number of people. The international research team studied the DNA of 200,000 people to identify genetic variations, called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are associated with the risk of developing prostate, breast, and ovarian cancer.

78 Genetic Variations Linked to Prostate Cancer Identified

Dr Batra, Prof Clements and Srilakshmi Srinivasan worked closely with fellow scientist from  the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, to help design the SNP chip that analysed the DNA for prostate cancer-released genetic variations. The new SNP research means scientists now know of 78 genetic variations linked to prostate cancer.

"We can now explain 35 per cent of the hereditary risk of prostate cancer by combining the effects of these 78 variations - but that means we still have 65 per cent to go," said Dr Batra.

The analysis compared the DNA of Queensland prostate cancer patients to that of healthy individuals.

For prostate cancer patients, Dr Batra said, "We found 23 additional genetic variations linked to prostate cancer and 16 of those relate to life-threatening forms of the disease."

According to Dr Batra, this means that: "If you're unlucky enough to be in the one per cent of people with lots of these prostate-cancer related variations in your DNA, your risk of developing this disease could rise by nearly 50 per cent compared to the population average."

The QUT scientists are currently designing a second chip to isolate the remaining variations.

Better-informed treatment choices for prostate cancer patients

The SNP research would be used to design genetic tests for prostate cancer, which would complement existing screening technologies.

"These genetic variations are inherited and don't change with age," Professor Clements said. "That means it's possible to test for the cancer risks well before they actually develop in a person.”

"About one in nine men will develop prostate cancer by 80 years of age, but not all prostate cancer is life threatening.”

"So knowing the genetic composition of a man's DNA becomes an important step in dealing with his disease.”

"Doctors would likely opt for regular screening and early surgical removal for patients likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer, but opt for watchful waiting in patients with variations linked to non-aggressive forms."

The genetic variation study was led by the UK's University of Cambridge and The Institute of Cancer Research.