Investigators unveil metastatic prostate cancer’s genomic landscape

Charlie Schmidt

Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Diseases

Localized prostate cancer that is diagnosed before it has a chance to spread typically responds well to surgery or radiation. But when a tumor metastasizes and sends malignant cells elsewhere in the body, the prognosis worsens. Better treatments for men with metastatic prostate cancer are urgently needed. In 2018, scientists advanced toward that goal by sequencing the entire metastatic cancer genome.

The newly revealed genomic landscape includes not just the active genes that make proteins, but also the vast stretches of DNA in between them that can also be functionally significant. Most of the genomic alterations were structural, meaning that DNA letters in the cells were mixed up, duplicated, or lost. A major finding was that the androgen receptor, which is a target for hormonal medications used when cancer returns after initial treatment, was often genetically amplified. That could explain why patients often become stubbornly resistant to hormonal therapies: if the androgen receptor is hyperactive, then the treatments can’t fully block its activity.

The research revealed many other sorts of alterations as well. For instance, DNA-repair genes such as BRCA2 and MMR were often defective. Cells rely on these genes to fix the genetic damage that afflicts them routinely every day, but with their functional loss, cancerous changes can follow. Cancer-driving oncogenes such as MYC were common, as were “tumor-suppressor” genes such as TP53 and CDK12, which ordinarily work to keep cancer at bay.

Metastatic prostate cancer differs from one man to another, and likewise, the frequency of these alterations varied among the more than 100 men who provided samples for analysis. By exploring the data, scientists can now develop new hypotheses for testing, and refine personalized treatment strategies to help men with this life-threatening disease.


  1. Roger Carrier

    Please comment on my post: You recommended getting sunlight to increase vitamin D. This ONLY works in southern areas of the US. Only UVB rays cause the body to produce vitamin D. UVB rays that hit the earth (37 degree latitude, Las Angeles and lower) will work. If you live in the north, the UVB rays are filtered out by the atmosphere. Laying out in the sun will give you a tan and/or skin cancer in Chicago, but it won’t give you vitamin D. Roger Carrier,

    • Erasmo Don-Zabala

      I was diagnosed at 79 years old High risky non metastatic, prostate cancer. Underwent radiation and injections of Firmagon for 2 years ( I am in the 14th injection) in both cases no side effects. My PSA IS < 0.01. In October 2018 University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic published a research by which Fisetin that reduce the burden of damaged cell termed senescent cell has significant effects in health and life span. Prostate cancer cells regrow among other numerous benefit are attributed in this new publication. For a few years I have taken Turmeric, Resveratrol and .Quercetin.
      Based in my personal case and the latest Research can I take the Fisetin recommended dosage of 1500mg for two days in one month and from there on in a monthly basis? without interfering with my Firmagon treatment based in the alleged multiple benefits attributed specially for older people?

  2. Gerald McAndrews

    I suffer with/from what seems to be an atypical form of osteoarthritis – ie symptoms from low back to my feet. I do find any information in the scientific literature regarding this presentation of the disease – your comments please

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