A team of researchers has identified for the first time a gene involved in the development of prostate cancer.
Researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Michigan Health System have spent the last 20 years working on the genetics of prostate cancer.
Their findings, published in New England Journal of Medicine, indicate that a rare hereditary form of the disease is linked to a mutation in the HOXB13 gene.
In their study, members of four families were found to have the same mutated gene, which was carried by all 18 men who developed prostate cancer.
The same mutation was found in 1.4 per cent of 5,100 men with prostate cancer. Whilst this makes it a rare cause, men who carry the gene are put at a 10 to 20 per cent increased risk of developing the disease.
This particular mutation was found in families of European descent, while two different mutations on the HOXB13 gene were identified in families of African descent.
Scientists now hope that a test could be created for men who have family members of the disease.
Dr Kathleen Cooney, professor of internal medicine and urology at the U-M Medical School, one of the study's two senior authors, said: "This is the first major genetic variant associated with inherited prostate cancer."
"We found that the mutation was significantly more common in men with a family history and early diagnosis compared with men diagnosed later, after age 55, without a family history. The difference was 3.1 per cent versus 0.62 per cent."
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, accounting for 25% of all newly diagnosed cases of cancer. The chances of developing prostate cancer increase with age, and most cases develop from the age of 70.
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