What will prostate genetic testing do for men?

I've written several times about women who have double mastectomies after learning that they carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation and, as a result, are many times more likely to develop breast cancer than women without one or both mutations.

The news in the past couple of days has been describing 5 genes identified as conferring risk of prostate cancer. Apparently the effects are additive in that one gene mutation alone is not enough to give increased risk.

None of the articles I have read indicates what men will do with the information if a test is developed and they learn of their increased potential for getting prostate cancer. Apparently the genes do not affect PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels, so there's no indication that the current standard test for prostate cancer would be helpful.

Naturally, screening of all types could be done more frequently, as could mammograms for women. But, I can't help but wonder whether at-risk men would be as quick to have a prostetectomy as at-risk women seem to be to have mastectomy.

And none of this information considers whether the genes that are associated with increased risk of breast or prostate cancer, when mutated, can increase cancer risk in other tissues. I have argued before that removing the "target" organ may not affect a genetic predisposition to cancer.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens with the new knowledge about prostate cancer.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

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