Scientists identify ‘genetic signatures’ holding clues on link between prostate cancer and ethnic background

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A team of local and international scientists have identified what it calls ‘genetic signatures’ they believe can help explain why men from some ethnic backgrounds are more prone to prostate cancer.

The researchers from South Africa, Brazil and Britain, used a process called whole-genome sequencing to map the genetic code of cancer cells.

African men have double susceptibility to prostate cancer

The findings show that men of African descent have more than double the chance of succumbing to prostate cancer than men from other race groups.

University of Pretoria (UP) Professor, Riana Bornman, an international expert in men’s health and clinical lead for the Southern African Prostate Cancer Study in South Africa elaborates, “Men of African descent have a higher risk of prostate cancer compared to western population and this has indication if we want to consider the ancestral consideration of treating prostate cancer. This means that we could have African specific treatment developing for African men and not rely on Western results.”

Bornman says prostate cancer is the silent killer in our region.

Senior author, genomicist, Professor Vanessa Hayes recalls the time when Archbishop Desmond Tutu was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer at age 66 and later succumbing to it in late December 2021. She says the Archbishop was not only an advocate for prostate cancer research in southern Africa, but also the benefits that genomic medicine would offer people.

Hayes adds that now that they have taken the initiative to tackling prostate cancer through precision medicine, they have hope that they can reduce the impact of this invasive cancer especially in rural parts of Africa.

“We had to start with a grassroots approach, engaging communities with open discussion, establishing the infrastructure for African inclusion in the genomic revolution, while determining the true extent of prostate disease.” adds Bornman.

Prostate Cancer explained – Dr Melissa Wallace [January 2021]

Over 2 million cancer specific genomic variants 

According to the University, whole genome sequencing of over 2 million cancer-specific genomic variants were identified in 183 untreated prostate tumours from men living across three study regions.

Hayes says they found Africans to be impacted to a greater degree and spectrum of acquired genetic alterations, with significant implications for ancestral consideration when treating prostate cancer.