African American men have a greater risk of developing and dying from prostate cancer. Using a comprehensive analysis of all the genetic risk data around prostate cancer for African American men, Dr. Chris Haiman of the University of Southern California and his team of over 200 researchers were able to determine that we can create an affordable test, based solely on a man’s saliva or blood sample, to assess his risk of developing prostate cancer. The challenge now is to optimize the accuracy of this test and design a way to deliver it to all men.
This test will have a historical and unprecedented impact in public health, health inequity, racial health justice and cancer research.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation and Robert F. Smith will work with Dr. Haiman to quadruple the size of his study cohort and finish his work. The new test will be the first of its kind for detecting cancer risk, in any cancer, in such a simple manner.
Think of it like a deck of cards. There are 100s of genes related to prostate cancer that you inherited from your parents. We now know there are several combinations of cards – think of it like a hand you are dealt when you are born – that can confer significantly increased risk for disease. The test allows doctors to assess how likely it is that any man will get prostate cancer.
This is of significant importance for African American men, many of whom have been dealt a particularly bad hand of cards for prostate cancer. If an African American man has one of those hands when he’s born, he may have up to 4-10 times higher risk of getting prostate cancer than the average guy. This is exactly what the test will indicate: the likelihood that a man has been dealt a bad hand of cards and may get prostate cancer.
Why is this important for everyone? Prostate cancer is a disease that is both 99% treatable if detected early AND has a reputation for overtreatment. The test goes a long way towards playing both ends to the middle for all men, of any ethnicity. Doctors will now have the critical info they need to be hyper-vigilant with certain men at high risk (earlier screening, more frequent diagnostics), and less invasive with those at lower risk (less frequent PSA tests, fewer biopsies). Moreover, this is the first step in reducing the overall disparity in death rate for men of African descent.
In the coming months, by increasing the size of his data set, Dr. Haiman and team will work to perfect the risk stratification of the test; in other words, to make sure the cut-offs for risk groups are as accurate as possible, in the same way that the output of your cholesterol test places you in a high, medium, or low risk category for cardiovascular disease.
After an initial research phase, U.S. men will be allowed to participate in a national clinical trial for FDA approval. Register here for updates and to be alerted when enrollment begins.