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Urine Protein Could Pave the Way for New Prostate Cancer Test


Wednesday 13 October 2010


Cancer Research UK-funded scientists have shown that a protein in urine could be a powerful indicator of prostate cancer risk, according to a study published in PLoS ONE.


Scientists from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) built on earlier genome-wide research to link a genetic change** associated with prostate cancer risk to a significant reduction in the amount of a protein called microseminoprotein-beta (MSMB). The protein - which regulates prostate cell death - is produced by normal prostate cells – and is linked to an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.


Previously Cancer Research UK scientists and other researchers had carried out studies to cross-examine the entire human genome from thousands of men both with and without the disease. They identified a small genetic change strongly linked to an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. The genetic change is common – occurring in around 30-40 per cent of European men. It is found in the section of DNA which ‘switches on’ the production of MSMB – and is the second most abundant protein in semen after prostate specific antigen (PSA)***. MSMB is secreted into the urine from the semen.


Unlike levels of PSA in serum which can be used to help test for prostate cancer, MSMB levels appear to be largely unaffected by an enlarged prostate. And previous studies have suggested they are not affected by hormones – the levels of which can be altered by some treatments for prostate cancer. At the moment, there are too many uncertainties with the PSA test for doctors to use it in a national screening programme. All men have naturally different levels of PSA and levels can sometimes be raised due to medical conditions other than prostate cancer, such as an enlarged prostate.  Also some men with prostate cancer will not have a raised PSA


This latest research suggests that levels of MSMB protein in urine could form the basis for a new test to help identify men at greater risk of developing the disease. It could also potentially be used alongside PSA testing to improve detection of prostate cancer and for monitoring progression of the disease.


Study author, Dr Hayley Whitaker, from Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute, said: “We looked in tissue and urine from over 350 men with and without prostate cancer to find out how much MSMB they had. We then looked to see who had the genetic change. It was really exciting to find out that the genetic change and the amount of protein were linked.”


“The protein is easy to detect because it is found in urine and would potentially be a very simple test to carry out on men to identify those most at risk of developing the disease.”


Study author Professor Rosalind Eeles from the ICR and The Royal Marsden Hospital said: “Our studies have shown that men with a small change in their MSMB gene are at a higher risk of prostate cancer, and so we are very excited that there may be a simple test for this genetic change. At the moment, PSA testing is the best method we have to detect prostate cancer but it has significant limitations, so there is an urgent need to find new biomarkers such as MSMB that could be used in screening and diagnosis.”


Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. A quarter of all new cases of cancer diagnosed in men are prostate cancers. In 2006, more than 35,000 men in the UK were diagnosed with the disease. Each year around 10,200 men in the UK die from it.


Professor David Neal, prostate cancer specialist at Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute, said: “This is a vital piece of research that could go a long way to find a long-awaited and much-needed reliable and easy test to identify those men most at risk of developing prostate cancer. If further studies show this marker can be used in the clinic this will be a landmark discovery.”



For media enquiries please contact Emma Rigby on 020 7061 8318 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

Notes to editors:

‘The rs 10993994 risk allele for prostate cancer results in clinically relevant changes in microseminoprotien-beta expression in tissue and urine’ is published in open access journal PLoS ONE today.

 **The genetic variation is called rs10993994 and is a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) on chromosome 10q. It is possible to carry the genetic variation on one or both copies of the MSMB gene – or neither copy. 


Symptoms of prostate cancer

Symptoms include, having to rush to the toilet to pass urine, passing urine more often and/or at night, difficulty starting the flow of urine, starting and stopping whilst passing urine, a feeling of not having emptied the bladder fully, dribbling of urine, blood in urine or semen and pain in the back, hips or pelvis.

***Screening for prostate cancer

The aim of screening is to diagnose disease at an early stage, before symptoms start. This is when it is easier to treat and is more likely to be curable. Before screening can be carried out, there must be an accurate test to use. At the moment, there is no national screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK because trials have not yet shown clear evidence that screening will reduce deaths from this disease. If you ask your GP to check you for prostate cancer he or she will

  • Examine your prostate by putting a gloved finger into your back passage and feeling the prostate gland
  • Take a blood test for PSA – prostate specific antigen

Generally speaking, the higher the PSA level, the more likely there is cancer present. But the PSA can be raised for other reasons, such as infection or a non cancerous enlarged prostate.

PSA alone is not recommended for screening in the UK because

  • Men with prostate cancer may not have a raised PSA
  • Two out of three men with a raised PSA do not have prostate cancer
  • There is uncertainty about the best way to treat early prostate cancer
  • The treatments can cause unpleasant side effects

About prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is rare in men under 50. The risk increases if there is a first-degree relative (father or brother) who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at a young age. Prostate cancer is most common in men of African descent, and least common in men of Asian origin.

Treatment will depend on the stage of the cancer and the age and general health of the patient. If the disease is at an early stage, does not cause symptoms or discomfort, and does not require aggressive treatment, doctors may suggest delaying treatment until the cancer shows signs of progressing further. Treatment can involve surgery, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and less often, chemotherapy which is of limited use in treating prostate cancer but is used if the cancer has spread.


About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research.
  • The charity’s groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.  This work is funded entirely by the public.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last thirty years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of more than 4,800 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit


The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 90 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
  • As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world

For more information visit

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