SALT LAKE CITY — A man's risk for prostate cancer can come from more than just bad genes passed down from his parents, according to new research from the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah.
Researchers found that asking a patient whether his uncles and great-grandparents, among other second- and third-degree relatives, had prostate cancer could be as important as looking at whether his father had prostate cancer. Also important is the age when relatives were diagnosed with the cancer.
"Family history is a substantial risk factor for prostate cancer," said Lisa Cannon-Albright, a University of Utah professor of genetic epidemiology and an investigator at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. "Typically, a clinician will ask a patient whether there are any people in the family with prostate cancer, possibly identifying whether they are first-degree relatives. And that's about as far as it goes."
For the purpose of the study, first-degree relatives include a father, son or brother, while second-degree relatives include grandparents, grandchildren and uncles. Third-degree relatives include great-grandparents, great-grandchildren, first cousins and great-uncles.
Researchers calculated risk estimates for men based on an extended family history using the Utah Population Database, which holds medical and genealogical information for more than 7.3 million people. The calculations, researchers determined, can help clinicians and patients develop an individualized action plan for cancer screening, monitoring and treatment.
The presence of prostate cancer in second- and even third-degree relatives contributes significantly to risk.
"The presence of prostate cancer in second- and even third-degree relatives contributes significantly to risk," the research states. "Maternal family history is just as significant as paternal family history."
The findings, supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program, the National Cancer Institute and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, among other sources, were recently published in The Prostate academic journal.
The local team of researchers is studying the information further to see whether the same risk profile applies across other factors, such as race, socioeconomic status and previous diagnosis with another type of cancer, Cannon-Albright said. Researchers are also working on similar risk assessments for breast and lung cancers.
"If we can identify subsets of people at greatest risk and target screening for those people, that will make a difference in many people's lives," she said.