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Scientists expect to find prostate cancer gene soon

May 19, 1997

DENVER (AP) _ Scientists are closing in on a gene that causes about one-third of all inherited prostate cancer, and they may find it within a few months.

Researchers already know the rough location of this gene, called HPC1, and they are racing to be the first to pinpoint it.

``People are working day and night on this. It will be very soon,`′ Dr. Olufunmilayo I. Olopade of the University of Chicago said Sundayz.

At least three research teams are competing to locate HPC1, including one involving scientists from Johns Hopkins University and Sweden.

Dr. Henrik Gronberg of Umea University in Sweden, a member of the Johns Hopkins collaboration, said scientists know which chromosome carries the gene, and they have narrowed down its location to a stretch of between 3 million and 5 million bits of information out of the 3 billion pieces of genetic data in the entire human library of DNA.

``We expect it will be found within the next couple of months to a year,`′ he said.

Gronberg updated the research at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

An estimated 334,500 American men will learn they have prostate cancer this year, and about 41,800 will die from it. Prostate cancer is just behind breast cancer as a cancer killer.

Tracking down the genes that are involved in the major cancer killers has become an important quest in cancer research. Sometimes cancer runs in families, and experts believe that deciphering the genes responsible for this will help them understand the roots of the more common non-inherited cancers, as well, so they can craft more precise treatments.

In 1994 and 1995, scientists isolated two genes, dubbed BRCA1 and BRCA2, that are important causes of breast and ovarian cancer that runs in families, especially when victims get the diseases before menopause.

Already, screening tests are available to tell women whether they carry these genes, so they can be checked more frequently for cancer or even have their breasts or ovaries removed while still healthy.

The discovery of HPC1 should help doctors screen and treat men who come from families where prostate cancer is common, as well as improve understanding of the genetic flaws that trigger the disease.

Experts estimate that between 5 percent and 10 percent of all prostate cancer results from an inborn genetic flaw that is passed through the generations. And they think that HPC1 accounts for about 30 percent of these inherited cases. A few other genes probably account for the rest.

Already, preliminary evidence exists that men with HPC1 get a more aggressive form of cancer than do those whose prostate cancer is not inherited.

Gronberg said about 40 percent of the cancers detected in men in these cancer families has already spread by the time it is detected, compared with about 30 percent of prostate cancer overall.

The gene appears to be especially important in triggering cancer at relatively young ages. He said studies on 91 cancer families suggest that it’s responsible for about half of all inherited cases that strike before age 65.