Common genetic variations increase prostate cancer risk

Nancy Ferrari

Senior editor, Harvard Health

Harvard researchers have identified seven distinct, yet common genetic variations that not only increase the risk of developing prostate cancer, but also may explain why this disease develops more often in African Americans than in white Americans of European descent.

The researchers analyzed DNA from more than 7,500 men, more than half of them with prostate cancer. When the genetic variants occur together, they make it five times more likely that a man will develop prostate cancer. Further, the researchers estimate that the risky DNA may contribute to 32% of the cases of prostate cancer in white Americans, but 68% of the cases in African Americans. Even more intriguing, the genetic variants were found along a stretch of non-coding or “junk” DNA — suggesting a whole new mechanism in cancer development.

Source: Haiman CA, Patterson N, Freedman ML, et al. Multiple Regions Within 8q24 Independently Affect Risk for Prostate Cancer. Nature Genetics 2007;39:638–44. PMID: 17401364.

Originally published April 2009; last reviewed February 24, 2011.

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