Despite all the advancements being made – and despite prostate cancer being one of the most common cancers in men – diagnosis of the disease remains a tricky proposition. For example, it is not unusual for a prostate specific antigen test to test positive for a non-cancerous condition such as prostatitis and benign prostatic hyerplasia.
Consequently, scientists are always on the lookout for biomarkers that can accurately detect prostate cancer at an early stage and identify aggressive tumors.
That's why it is exciting when a team of scientists discover a number of microRNAs – small non-coding molecules that are important for controlling gene expression– known to be increased in prostate cancer.
Publishing in the journal Endocrine-Related Cancer, the researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia detail how they analyzed seminal fluid samples from 60 men and found that the microRNAs were "surprisingly accurate" at predicting which men had prostate cancer, and how severe the cancer was. Some of these microRNAs were found to be more accurate than a PSA test at detecting prostate cancer.
In previous work, lead author Dr. Luke Selth and his team demonstrated that microRNAs found in the blood can predict which men are likely to experience recurrence after their prostate cancer has been surgically removed.
The team also found one specific microRNA - called miR-200b – that could tell the difference between men with low tumors and those with higher grade tumors. "This is important," Selth wrote, "because, as a potential prognostic tool, it will help to indicate the urgency and type of treatment required."
Selth says they are "excited by the potential clinical application of microRNAs in a range of body fluids." He and his team are currently planning to validate their results with larger groups of patients.