Scientists Discover a Potential ‘Breakthrough’ in Prostate Cancer Treatment
What story could bacteria tell about cancer genetics? Researchers in the U.K. are tugging at this line of questioning; in the process, they recently discovered five species of bacteria linked to aggressive prostate cancer. More exploration of this association could help them understand the disease better — and potentially identify tests and cures to prevent cancer in the first place.
The research, which appears in the journal European Urology Oncology, involved a genetic analysis of urine and prostate tissue of around 600 men — both with and without prostate cancer. The scientists found five species of bacteria that overlapped with the aggressive cancer cells; three of these were identified for the first time ever. Based on the examination, men who had multiple bacteria species in their urine were 2.6 times more likely to develop an advanced form of prostate cancer than men who did not. In other words, the newly identified bacteria could potentially be an indicator of the disease’s severity.
“This is an exciting discovery that has the potential to truly revolutionize treatment for men,” said Dr. Hayley Luxton of Prostate Cancer UK, which co-funded the research.
Prostate cancer is very commonly known as the most deadly form of the disease; it is almost always too late before the cancer is detected, creating a scenario where “in many cases, patients die with the disease rather than because of it,” as The Guardian noted. Then a microbial clue, like the one researchers are investigating now, could offer a sliver of hope.
Clinical developments around diagnosing and treating prostate cancer must also be coupled with social aspects of care. In India, particularly, a lack of awareness and cultural stigma prevents active health intervention. “Prostate cancer remains one of the least talked about cancers in the general public, at least in India. Hence there remains a great deal of confusion surrounding this disease,” Dr. Anish Kumar Gupta, andrologist, urologist, urological surgeon, and sexologist, told Indian Express. Men either “have notions of their own, unsubstantiated by medical information, or change the topic or just joke about it.”
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What do bacteria have to do with prostate cancer identification? The research doesn’t demonstrate if the bacteria causes or increases the risk of prostate cancer; there is no causation proven just as yet. But a link between the said species of bacteria, along with finding new ones, gives a new horizon for finding treatment options. “If the team can demonstrate that these newly identified bacteria can not only predict, but actually cause aggressive prostate cancer, for the first time we may actually be able to prevent prostate cancer from occurring,” Luxton added. “This would be a huge breakthrough that could save thousands of lives each year.”
One way this data could be utilized is by developing antibiotics. “If you knew for sure that a species of bacteria was causing prostate cancer, you could work out an antibiotic to remove it and that would prevent progression, one would hope,” said lead scientist Colin Cooper, a professor of cancer genetics at the University of East Anglia.
There are some important gaps yet to be filled. How will the bacteria respond to antibiotics? Can the antibiotics kill certain bacteria only? Or something as basic as: how do bacteria impact cancer cells? Perhaps, bacteria has nothing to do with prostate cancer and could just be a result of a poor immune system. But there is some literature to show how the presence of some microbes, like Helicobacter pylori, increases the risk of stomach cancer.
Like all breakthroughs, the research is promising but must pave way for greater scrutiny.