Genetic Risks & Testing

Genetic Risks & Testing

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What are the genetic risks of prostate cancer?

Having family members with prostate cancer increases your risk between 2 to 5 times. A strong history of other cancers in the family, such as breast and ovarian, also increases your risk of getting this disease. 

Our current understanding suggests that 5–10% of all prostate cancer cases in Australia may be caused by an inherited (hereditary) genetic risk. This occurs when gene mutations (changed genes) are passed down from your parents. If you have a family member with inherited prostate cancer, you have a good chance of having the same genetic mutation. 

Follow the links to learn more about genetics and gene mutations:

How does your family history change your risk? 

Genetics and prostate cancer

What are gene mutations?

BRCA gene mutations and their risks in prostate cancer

There are a number of gene mutations linked to prostate cancer risk, but BRCA (or BReast CAncer) gene mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2) are the most common. BRCA mutations can be genetically inherited or acquired due to your environment, lifestyle or other factors (these are also called somatic mutations). 

Mutations in BRCA genes 1 or 2 increase your risk of being diagnosed with prostate and having more aggressive (fast growing and spreading) cancer.  These gene mutations are also linked to breast and ovarian cancer. 

Learn more about BRCA Genes & Prostate Cancer

Testing for genes and other markers in prostate cancer

Finding out if you have BRCA mutations or other genetic markers may potentially change the way your prostate cancer is treated and may tell your doctor whether some treatments will be less or more effective for you. Many of the tests to find out this information are not yet available routinely or are not subsidised by Medicare, so you may have upfront costs. 

With advances in research, though, these tests may be more available and may help provide more individualised or precision medicine for prostate cancer in the future.

What are the different types of gene testing in prostate cancer?

There are three evolving types of testing in prostate cancer: 

  1. Genetic testing
  2. Genomic testing
  3. Biomarker testing
What is genetic testing?

Genetic testing looks for specific inherited (also called germline) mutations, such as BRCA mutations, in your saliva or blood. Knowing if you have inherited mutations, may help predict your disease risk or quickly and accurately identify if certain treatments are appropriate for you.

Genetic testing is a personal decision. Talk to your doctor or reach out to a PCFA nurse for more information or advice. They may refer you to a genetic counsellor who will discuss your family risks and the pros and cons of genetic testing. You can also read more at Genetic Testing and Counselling

Genomic testing is different to genetic testing, as it looks at all genes (germline or somatic) taken directly from cells of your prostate cancer after a biopsy. Genomic testing is a more advanced way of predicting the risk of your cancer growing or spreading. 

Read more at Genomic Testing & Biomarkers

Biomarker testing uses certain markers found in your body (genes, proteins or tissue changes) that help identify abnormal cell activity or disease. Different biomarkers can be used to detect and assess prostate cancer risk, and guide and monitor treatment options. This is also an emerging field and will play an important role in precision medicine into the future. 

Find out more about Genomic Testing & Biomarkers

If you need more information on testing, talk to your doctor or reach out to a PCFA nurse.

Key points

  • Gene mutations, such as BRCA mutations, can increase your risk of prostate cancer.
  • Gene, protein and biomarker testing can help with detection and diagnosis to target treatments for your prostate cancer. This is called precision medicine.
  • There are three types of testing that uses genetic material (genetic testing, genomic testing and biomarker testing).
  • Research is evolving to bring better testing and more targeted treatments for men at risk or those diagnosed with prostate cancer.
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