Is Prostate Cancer Hereditary?

Less than 10 percent of all prostate cancers run in families. However, an important scientific discovery several years ago is shedding more light on the hereditary aspects of this disease.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health, along with colleagues in Sweden and the United States, identified a gene in families with a history of prostate cancer. In a study of nearly 100 families with a strong family history of the disease (three or more men), they found that mutations in the HPC-1 gene may predispose a man to developing prostate cancer.

Researchers still need to determine exactly how the mutation in the HPC-1 gene leads to cancer. They speculate, however, that mutations in this gene are responsible for one-third of inherited forms of prostate cancer. Based on this knowledge – and on more research yet to come – screening mechanisms and therapies can be developed specifically for the population of men with a family history of prostate cancer.

Recently, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that white males who were diagnosed with prostate cancer after the age of 63 and who carried a mutation in the CYP3A4 gene – but did not have a family history of the disease – were 10 times more likely to have a higher stage (more aggressive) tumor than men without a mutation in this gene.

The CYP3A4 gene helps distribute testosterone throughout the body. Scientists think that elevated testosterone levels play an important role in the development of prostate cancer. They do not yet know if a mutation in the CYP3A4 gene leads directly to prostate cancer. The finding is important, however, because the majority of men who develop the disease do not have a family history of it. The discovery may lead to improved screening mechanisms specifically in men with a mutation in the CYP3A4 gene.

Hereditary Cancer Risk Assessment