Mayo Clinic researchers discover biomarkers for prostate cancer detection, recurrence

Alterations to the "on-off" switches of genes occur early in the development of prostate cancer and could be used as biomarkers to detect the disease months or even years earlier than current approaches, a Mayo Clinic study has found. These biomarkers - known as DNA methylation profiles - also can predict if the cancer is going to recur and if that recurrence will remain localised to the prostate or, instead, spread to other organs.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, is the first to capture the methylation changes that occur across the entire human genome in prostate cancer.

The discovery could someday help physicians diagnose prostate cancer earlier and make more effective treatment decisions to improve cure rates and reduce deaths. It also points to the development of new drugs that reverse the DNA methylation changes, turning the "off" switch back "on" and returning the genetic code to its normal, noncancerous state.

"Our approach is more accurate and reliable than the widely used PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test," says senior author Krishna Donkena, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic molecular biologist.

Dr. Donkena and her colleagues analysed the methylation status of 14,495 genes from 238 prostate cancer patients.

The patients included people who remained cancer-free after treatment, those who had a localised tumour recurrence and those whose cancer spread.. The researchers found that the DNA methylation changes that occurred during the earliest stages of prostate cancer development were nearly identical in all patients.