On January 7, 2009, The New York Times published an article by Steven Pinker1 discussing the effects of genetics on a person’s physical features, personality, and chances of getting certain diseases. One of the diseases discussed by Pinker is Prostate Cancer, a disease that has been shown to be hereditary. For Pinker, according to his genetic makeup, his chances of getting the disease are 12.5%. However, research on the effects of genes on a person’s chances of getting prostate cancer is still in the nascent stage and it cannot be said with any certainty if a person inheriting a mutated gene will get the disease.
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Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancer among men and its rate of occurrence differs from region to region with men in the United States, Canada, Sweden, Australia, and France most like to develop disease2. This fact alone suggests that cancer may be hereditary. However, even though observations attest to the highly hereditary nature of the disease, research in the field so far has proved to be inconclusive, with most scientists failing to isolate the gene or genes which may be responsible for the disease.
Over the years, scientists have tried to find the genes which may increase the risk of getting the disease. Some of the genes which may be associated with prostate cancer include HPC1, CAPB, BRCA1, and BRCA23. But confirming the association of these genes with prostate cancer remains tricky. Most studies continue to blame environmental factors over hereditary factors.
A number of studies have tried to study the effect of polymorphisms in genes on the incidence of prostate cancer2. While different studies have come up with different conclusions, on analyzing these researches, no definite pattern can be found. Once again, though certain mutations seem to increase the risk of the disease in Caucasians, it has not been proved conclusively. It would seem that family history is after all not a marker for increased risk of prostate cancer and mutations in genotype may result in sporadic occurrences of the disease.
This, though, has not dissuaded scientists from carrying out studies on different ethnic groups to ascertain if certain genotypes make certain ethnicities more susceptible. In most studies, the risk factor for Caucasians seems to be higher than for another ethnicity, suggesting a reason why men in western countries are more likely to develop the disease. Zabaleta et al3 also identified certain genotypes which affect Caucasians more and others that are more likely to cause prostate cancer among African Americans. For example, the genotype IL10-819TT was associated with a lower risk of cancer in African Americans when compared to the genotype IL10-819CC. Similarly, genotypes IL10-1082AA and IL10-819CT gave Caucasians a lower risk of prostate cancer. Such studies show that different genotypes affect individuals from different ethnic backgrounds differently, and may offer a clue for future research.
In conclusion, even though specific genes have not been conclusively proved to cause prostate cancer, there are enough cases of familial prostate cancer to warrant further research and isolate the gene or genes which would render certain individuals highly susceptible to the disease.
- Pinker, S. My genome, my self. The New York Times. (2009). Web.
- Li, H. & Tai, B.C. RNASEL gene polymorphisms and the risk of prostate cancer: a meta-analysis. Clin Cancer Res 12(19) (2006).
- Zabaleta, J. et al. Interactions of cytokine gene polymorphisms in prostate cancer risk. Carcinogenesis 29(3). (2008). Web.