Thanks to research funded by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, we now know that some prostate cancers are caused by genetic mutations. In 12%-20% of families, certain cancer-causing genes are passed down from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters. These are referred to as germline genetic mutations.
A genetic mutation is a change in part of the normal DNA that makes up a gene. Most mutations are hereditary, meaning that they are passed down from one family member to another. Mutations can also be caused after birth by various lifestyle and environmental factors, such as smoking or the UV rays from the sun.
Genetic mutations can be passed down from father to son, father to daughter, mother to son, or mother to daughter. Since we now know that some of the same genes that cause prostate cancer also cause other forms of cancer (such as breast, colon, stomach, etc.) – and vice versa – it can be important to be screened early if you have a history of cancer in your family, even if it’s not prostate cancer. Screening, referred to as germline genetic testing, is easy and can be done with a simple saliva test or blood test.
All men with metastatic prostate cancer are now encouraged to speak to their physician about whether they may need germline genetic testing.
For more information on the genetics of risk, download the Patient Guide
Someday soon, genetic screening will be the first step that any doctor takes in diagnosing and treating many different types of disease. As medicine continues to transition to this new system of precision medicine, be prepared to be your own patient advocate: know your family history, and don’t be shy about asking your doctor if genetic counseling or screening is right for you.
More information can be found at the National Society for Genetic Counselors.