Findings of pioneering study unveiled at ASCO 2020 show that genetic screening for prostate cancer in GP surgeries could be effective at picking up otherwise undiagnosed cases of the disease in seemingly healthy males.

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust worked with GPs to invite more than 300 healthy Caucasian men aged 55-69 to participate in screening.

Researchers then ‘barcoded’ men for their genetic risk of prostate cancer by testing each for 130 DNA changes, assigning those deemed to be in the top 10% for risk of the disease follow-up checks. Of these, 18 men underwent an MRI scan and a biopsy, of which seven were then diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The pilot – funded by the European Research Council with additional support from Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research – was the first ever in the UK to evaluate use of genetic screening for prostate cancer in the general population.

A larger-scale study called BARCODE1 will now be undertaken to help determine the potential of a new screening programme for improving detection of the disease.

“It’s vital that we find ways of putting our increased knowledge of the genetics and biology of cancer to work not only to find new treatments, but also to identify targeted methods for early detection of the disease,” noted Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

“This is an exciting early pilot study which for the first time in the UK demonstrates that genetic screening for prostate cancer is safe, feasible and potentially effective. It’s great to see that this research is now progressing into a larger-scale pilot, which if successful could show the potential of genetic screening to be a life-saver.”