Researchers from the Mayo Clinic have directly linked an enzyme to aggressive prostate cancer. They've also developed a compound that restricts the ability of the molecule to fuel metastases of this type of cancer.
The team from Mayo's Florida campus identified the first direct relationship between the enzyme known as PRSS3 to prostate cancer, according to Medical News Today. They published their results in Molecular Cancer Research.
The National Cancer Institute estimated that close to a quarter of a million men would be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, and around 28,000 of them wouldn't survive.
For years, medical professionals have relied on two types of screening for this disease: a digital rectal exam and the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. However, the Mayo Clinic says using the PSA test is sometimes controversial, since it can provide false indicators and since there is no proof that it actually saves lives.
PRSS3, a protease, digests other molecules. The Mayo researchers concluded that activity associated with the enzyme alters the environment surrounding prostate cancer cells. They suspect that PRSS3 frees the cells from surrounding tissue, allowing them to become invasive and to spread cancer.
They haven't concluded that the enzyme is the only issue linked to aggressive prostate cancer, however. Instead, they suspect that PRSS3 might power a potentially lethal form of this cancer.
The researchers examined databases available to the public that contained information from clinical studies. After finding a link between early breast cancer and protease in earlier work, they sought to discover whether any other type of cancer expressed protease and at which stages of the disease.
They found a dramatic relationship between increases in PRSS3 expression and progression of aggressive prostate cancer. The scientists determined that protease expression played a critical role in prostate cancer metastasis in mice models and found a site for an inhibiting agent to shut down the expression. In mice in which PRSS3 was "shut off," the malignancy did not spread.
One outcome of the study is the possibility of testing prostate cancer patients for the molecule. Doctors could better determine patients at highest risk for an aggressive form of the disease. While the inhibitor utilized cannot be directly developed into a useful drug, it could provide a template for creating one.
My husband is among those who could eventually profit from this study. After two successive PSA tests with numbers that suddenly skyrocketed, he underwent painful biopsies that showed nothing amiss. Although his PSA numbers bounce, his urologist insists that he keep repeating the test.
With a family history of aggressive prostate cancer, my husband finds it hard to argue. Should he nix more PSA tests and eventually develop the illness, the link between the enzyme and prostate cancer provides some hope of a positive outcome.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.