DNA testing for prostate cancer risk: Here’s what you need to know

Prostate cancer is a condition many of us have heard of, but rarely do we think about it potentially affecting us. We probably should, though, because approximately one out of every seven males will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. That may seem like a scary statistic, but fortunately, cancer isn’t always unavoidable or untreatable. In fact, thinking about it now may take you a long way toward a cancer-free future.

 

MYTH: Cancer is always unavoidable or untreatable

Over the past several decades, many scientific advances have made it possible to treat and overcome conditions like breast and prostate cancer. In addition to the new therapeutics that are constantly being researched and developed, one of the major advances in cancer treatment and prevention has been in using a person’s DNA to identify who is at an increased risk of some forms of cancer. This is extremely helpful, because there are specific actions people can take to reduce the impact of cancer on their lives—and in some cases, possibly even prevent it.

NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Prostate Cancer Genetic Risk Score is a great example of how modern science has allowed us to get a better look at our cancer risks. Designed by one of the nation’s leading healthcare providers, this product is uniquely designed to provide a personalized risk of developing prostate cancer. Your personal risk is calculated by looking at your DNA, age, and ethnicity.

Here’s how it works

Like most conditions, prostate cancer is a complex disease that can develop for many reasons1. Whether a person smokes tobacco, for example, can significantly affect their risk of developing certain cancers (along with many other environmental and lifestyle factors). But environment isn’t everything, and research has shown that a person’s DNA can also play a big role in cancer development.

 

FACT: If found at an early stage, 5-year prostate cancer survival rate is nearly 100%2

Scientists have found that variants—spots in our DNA sequence that can differ from person to person—occur more often in people who develop prostate cancer than in those who don’t. Put another way, researchers have found many genetic factors that appear to be associated with an increased likelihood of developing prostate cancer. With this knowledge, it becomes possible to look at a person’s DNA and determine whether they’re more likely to develop prostate cancer and if they would benefit from preventative action. This is exactly what NorthShore does with the Prostate Cancer Genetic Risk Score product.

This test looks at many locations in your DNA, each of which has a demonstrated association with prostate cancer risk. By tallying up your risk (or lack thereof), NorthShore is able to estimate what your lifetime risk of prostate cancer development is. This genetic assessment is then combined with other information, such as your age and ethnicity, to give you a more complete picture of what your risks are.

There are some limitations to this test that are worth pointing out. While DNA does play a role, we are still learning about the many factors that contribute to disease development. This test is based on research that’s been done using DNA from males of African American, East Asian, and Non-Hispanic White ethnic backgrounds, meaning this test is not validated for people outside of these demographics. We still have much more to learn about DNA and cancer in people from diverse backgrounds.

After you get your results

Many people will find that they have an average risk of cancer development, and that’s a good thing! All biologically male individuals are at an increased risk of developing prostate cancer, but some may learn that their risk is further increased as a result of their DNA. Either way, you’re not alone.

Aside from simply providing you with a risk assessment, Prostate Cancer Genetic Risk Score also comes with the opportunity to speak with a genetic counselor at no additional charge. These professionals are available to help you understand your results and how they fit into the larger context of your life, and may suggest earlier discussion with physicians about timing and frequency of prostate cancer screenings for those at higher risk. They’re also there to help you identify the next steps you can take, like talking to your family and your healthcare provider about your results.

It’s important to know that there are steps that can be taken to help prevent advanced stage cancer development1. Routine screening, for example, gives you a better chance of catching cancer early, at a stage where it’s very often treatable. Exactly what steps are right for you may depend on your specific situation, but that’s where genetic counselors and other healthcare professionals can help. With Prostate Cancer Genetic Risk Score by NorthShore, you’ll be off to a strong start.

 

1“Prostate Cancer.” National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov/types/prostate.

2“Survival Rates for Prostate Cancer.” American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.html.

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