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Genetic screening could identify men with 10-fold risk of testicular cancer

27 October 2015  •  Author: Victoria White

A new study of more than 25,000 men has uncovered four new genetic variants associated with increased risk of testicular cancer.

testicular-cancer

Testing for these variants combined with all 21 previously identified using genetic sequencing identified men with a 10-fold higher risk of testicular cancer than the population average.

The research, led by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is the largest study to date of the genetics of testicular germ cell tumours – the most common cancer in young men.

Researchers discovered the four new variants through analysing the DNA of 6,059 patients with testicular cancer, and comparing it with the DNA of 19,094 people without the disease.

The sizes of the effects of some of the genetic variants associated with testicular cancer risk are quite high. A man in the top one per cent of genetic risk had a five per cent lifetime risk of developing testicular cancer, more than 10 times higher than that of the average man.

No current treatments that target specific gene mutations in testicular cancer

There are no current treatment options that target specific genetic mutations in testicular cancer, and standard treatment with platinum-based chemotherapy has a high success rate. That means that the more likely application of genetic testing in testicular cancer is in diagnosing the level of risk in men yet to develop it, rather than in matching patients to specific treatments.

However, understanding the genetic variants underlying susceptibility to testicular cancer also helps us understand the biology of the disease, which may in due course inform development of new targeted therapies that could be effective in patients resistant to platinum chemotherapy.

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said, “This important study not only adds more genetic risk factors to the list of those known for testicular germ cell tumours – the most common cancer in young men – but also adds detail to the emerging picture of testicular cancer as a strongly heritable disease.

“This study provides some evidence that genetic screening in selected groups of men could be a long-term possibility – in particular in first-degree relatives of patients, who we know are at greatly increased risk. We also need to look at this new genetic information and see if it can direct the discovery of new, more targeted treatments.”

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