A first-of-its-kind study in the UK is aiming to solve the mystery of why black men develop prostate cancer at twice the rate of other men in the UK.
The PROFILE study will look at the genes of men of African and Caribbean descent to see if they can learn to predict prostate cancer risk, and find better ways of diagnosing and treating the disease.
In the UK, one in four black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, double the one in eight risk faced by all men. This Black History Month, the hope is to raise awareness of this increased risk for black men and encourage men who are eligible to take part in the study, which has resumed after being forced to temporarily halt recruitment due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The study is currently open to men aged 40-69, who are of African or Caribbean descent and haven’t previously had prostate cancer. It will continue to recruit men until 1 June 2021.
Understanding black men's higher risk
To help them understand black men’s risk, the researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust will run a series of initial tests to look for clues in their DNA. They will then monitor these men over the next five years for signs of developing prostate cancer, using blood tests, scans, and biopsies.
The researchers hope this will identify why certain men are more likely to get prostate cancer. This information can then be used to help find new ways to spot these men earlier, based on their genes.
The findings could also lead to new approaches to help prevent or delay the disease – or point to treatments that may work better for this group of men. This builds on existing research by the same team, looking at the genetic risk of men with a direct family history of prostate cancer.
The study was funded by Prostate Cancer UK in partnership with Movember.
'The role played by genetics'
Study leader Professor Ros Eeles, Professor of Oncogenetics at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and Honorary Consultant Clinical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden, said:
“It is vitally important that we understand what it is that makes prostate cancer more common in men of African and Caribbean descent.
“We know the secret may lie in changes in the DNA passed on through generations and inherited by the men from their parents. But the only way to understand fully the role played by genetics is to do a study like this one, with enough participants to be able to see the bigger picture.
“We believe this study will not only enhance our knowledge of the higher risk in African and Caribbean men, but also open up the possibility of better tests to screen these patients and detect the disease earlier. Picking up the disease early, when it is easier to treat, is crucial to improving survival rates. Finding new genetic clues to prostate cancer could also lead to new approaches to treatment.”
'Better tests and treatments'
Dr Matthew Hobbs, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, said:
“One in four black men in the UK will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, which is why work like this is so important. This study could greatly improve our understanding of black men’s risk. It could not only help us find the men most at risk of getting prostate cancer, but can also point the way to better tests and treatments that could save their lives.
“The study was one of many that was affected by the shutdowns imposed by Covid-19, and it is now crucial that we’re able to encourage men to sign up so that we can complete this vital work as quickly as possible.
“In the meantime, we know that fewer men have been tested for prostate cancer during the pandemic. It’s therefore essential that men most at risk – including black men over 45 - speak to their GP about whether a PSA test is right for them.”
'My family history and ethnic background put me at greater risk'
Frederick Forster, aged 46, is head chef at a Kent restaurant and a participant in the PROFILE study at The Royal Marsden. He said:
“My father was treated at The Royal Marsden and passed away from prostate cancer nearly 15 years ago. I know my family history and ethnic background put me at greater risk of developing prostate cancer, so I want to help the researchers and doctors find out why this is and what can be done about it.
“The big ‘C’ word isn’t something you take lightly and I think there’s probably reluctance among African and Caribbean men to come forward and get tested. Who knows, by taking part in this trial, maybe I could save a life further down the line.”