Australian scientists have discovered a genetic marker they say could identify whether patients with prostate cancer are likely to develop a more aggressive form of the disease which, in most cases, is untreatable.
The federal government has pledged $800,000 towards developing their research, in the hope it will pave the way for more effective treatments.
Cancer of the prostate is the second-most diagnosed cancer in Australian men, with one in five at risk of developing the disease.
Australian scientists have made a breakthrough in prostate cancer research Source: Supplied
When the cancer is localised, the survival rate is very high at 95 per cent.
But what alarms medical professionals is when prostate cancer progresses to the metastatic stage. That is, if it moves outside the prostate - patients have just a 30 per cent chance of survival.
But why do some cancers become metastatic and others don’t? That’s the $800,000 dollar question these South Australian scientists want to find out.
Dr Philip Gregory and his team from the University of South Australia’s Centre for Cancer Biology have discovered a particular gene product, known as ‘quaking’, that could be driving the disease’s progression.
"We surveyed this very large cohort of patient samples and found that men that had advanced aggressive disease, had very high levels of this molecule called quaking,’ Dr Gregory told SBS News.
Now they have found quaking is associated with metastatic prostate cancer, they want to work out whether it is the cause.
One in five Australian men at risk of developing the disease Source: Supplied
Dr Gregory said the government grant will allow the team to investigate the real importance of quaking.
"What we are hoping our research will tell us is, ultimately, a diagnostic as to which men are most likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer, and when we can diagnose these men better, we can make better (treatment) decisions,” he said.
Seventy-three-year-old Melbourne man Peter Sale was diagnosed with prostate cancer seven years ago, and has joined the growing number of survivors.
But Mr Sale says his cancer is being treated with hormone therapy and is worried it may not work long term.
"It's working well so far. But I'm lead to believe that, eventually it will lose its effectiveness,” he said.
CEO of Cancer Council Australia Sanchia Aranda told SBS News it is during the metastatic progression where treatment can often lose effectiveness.
Peter Sale was diagnosed with prostate cancer seven years ago Source: Supplied
"Once the cancer moves beyond the prostate, then radiotherapy and surgical treatments that we currently use for local control, don't work anymore, she said.
"Then you're relying on hormones essentially, and over time men become resistant to those.”
The funding is a ray of hope for Mr Sale, who faces an uncertain future when it comes to treating his case.
"I guess when you're suffering from a condition, you put a lot of hope in research coming up with new and better treatments. "