Genetic Red Flag Warning

Prostate cancer aggressiveness may be related to SPARCL1

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Genes are in the driver’s seat when it comes to cancer forming, growing and spreading. Same holds true for the levels of these genes. Low levels of a gene that’s supposed to protect against cancer obviously isn’t a good thing.

Scientists believe that when a gene called SPARCL1 gets weaker, it’s usually a red flag that prostate cancer is more aggressive and more likely to return after treatment.

"Discuss prostate cancer screening with your doctor."

Urologists at Johns Hopkins made the discovery during a study focused on what inspires prostate cancer cells to grow out of control.

“Our findings should allow physicians to not only pinpoint those patients whose cancers are destined to return after surgery, but could also reveal a potential new option for treatment,” said Edward Schaeffer, MD, PhD, an associate professor of urology, oncology and pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. Schaeffer, along with lead investigator, Paula Hurley, PhD, learned that SPARCL1 is apparently involved in the return of various cancers including bladder, breast, colorectal, skin, tongue and ovarian.

"We continue to search to markers that help us predict outcomes in many diseases including prostate cancer," E. David Crawford, MD, professor of surgery, urology, and radiation oncology at the University of Colorado, Denver, told dailyRx in an email.

"This gene marker SPARCL1 looks promising, however further validation is necessary," said Dr. Crawford, who wasn't involved in this study, is the head of the Section of Urologic Oncology at UCHSC.

"If the marker is positive, could one avoid a particular treatment such as radical prostatectomy [removal of the prostate] and then receive a different treatment such as androgen depravation and perhaps chemotherapy? Time will tell if this and other markers help us to more personalize care," Dr. Crawford said.

This research team is now trying to find a way to crank SPARCL1 back up to its normal levels - something that could possibly avoid a recurrence (return).

“While many of our patients are initially cured with surgery, some inexplicably have their cancers return,” said Schaeffer, who is co-director of the Johns Hopkins Prostate Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic.

“We are working to identify patients at higher risk of recurrence, and our ultimate goal is to develop new treatments that would prevent the return of the cancer.”

This research was published August 27 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study was funded by Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program, Prostate Cancer Biorepository Network (PCBN). Also supporting the work were Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute YSCA, the Patrick C. Walsh Prostate Cancer Fund at Johns Hopkins, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Careers Physician Scientist Award, the American Urological Association Astellas Research Star Award, and the National Institutes of Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 28, 2012
Last Updated:
September 21, 2012