Prostate Cancer Genetic Risk Test FAQ for Patients

Prostate Cancer Genetic Risk Test FAQ – General

  1. How does the prostate cancer genetic risk test work?

We are still in the stages of research & development and testing in the clinic. But when it does become available, it will be as simple as spitting in a tube or getting a blood test and sending your sample out to a hospital lab. The lab will return back a score to you and your doctor – in the same way that cholesterol is reported, and even possibly in the same test – indicating your overall lifetime risk for prostate cancer.

  1. Why is this test important for African American men?

African American men are about 75% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer vs Caucasian men. So, while knowing about lifetime risk based on their genetic profile is important for all men, the information is especially urgent for men of African descent. Knowing that an African American man has a high risk score could prompt earlier and more frequent and vigilant screening.

  1. 3. How can you tell prostate cancer risk from saliva or blood?

Saliva and blood contain your DNA (genes). Humans inherit about 20,000 genes from their parents. The particular genes you inherit play a role in everything from eye color to whether you are at increased risk of certain diseases. Dr. Christopher Haiman of the University of Southern California and other teams of scientists have identified 100s (“poly,” or “many”) of genes in the DNA that are associated with prostate cancer. Men with specific “code” changes in these specific genes are at greater risk of the disease. Scientists can look a man’s genetic material in a sample, count the number of prostate cancer risk gene changes that are present, and calculate a “polygenic risk score” that is unique to him.

  1. Does this test diagnose prostate cancer?

No. Prostate cancer is diagnosed with a biopsy of prostate tissue. However, the test may help guide patients and doctors as they consider if and when to do a biopsy.

  1. Is this a new treatment for prostate cancer?

No. The genetic risk score is used to guide decisions about earlier detection and screening, before a man has prostate cancer.

  1. Does this test replace the PSA test?

No. At this point, PSA is still the standard of care for population-based prostate cancer screening. However, your genetic risk score may help you and your doctor determine the age at when you begin screening, how often to screen, and what action to take if your PSA starts to rise over time as you are screened.

  1. What does the score mean, and what should I do with the results?

The polygenic risk score will tell men and their doctors how likely the man is to get prostate cancer over his lifetime. It does not “guarantee” that a man will get prostate cancer, but indicates how much higher the odds are that he will. It is a personal score, based on your personal genetic risk, as found in your DNA. This will help you and your doctor as you decide at what age to start screening (currently, done with a PSA test), how often to screen. If you are a man with rising PSA levels, this test can help you and your doctor decide when to do a biopsy vs to wait. For example, if your risk score is very low, and your PSA is rising very slowly, you may decide to temporarily forgo more invasive screening. It is not the only factor that your doctor will consider – it is another source of “precision medicine” information. A high score does not mean you have prostate cancer, it means you are at higher risk for prostate cancer.

  1. If I am at higher risk, is there anything I can do to lower my risk?

This is a new area for research. There are several actions you can take if your genetic risk score indicates that you are at high risk for prostate cancer in your lifetime. Discuss your results (and any other test results and family cancer history, if applicable), and work with your doctor to create a screening plan that’s right for you. Also, talk to your doctor about known lifestyle changes in diet and exercise that may affect your susceptibility to prostate cancer. Active research continues around the impact of diet, exercise, and stress on cancer. Download PCF’s wellness guide, The Science of Living Well, Beyond Cancer, to learn more.

  1. How can I get involved?

Dr. Haiman and his international team will do additional research over the next couple of years to fine-tune the accuracy of the test. This work will first focus on measuring prostate cancer risk in African American men, and later will expand to men of all ethnicities. Then, it will be available as a clinical trial to all adult men in the U.S. Click here to register for updates and we will notify you when enrollment begins.