Despite being a firm believer in the benefits of PSA testing, I recognize that it is not enough on its own to be able to identify the severity of a man’s cancer. By looking at PSA velocity, family history, Gleason scores, and biopsy results, we’re able to piece together what we think is an accurate view of a patient’s case; but there really is no definite way to tell short of removing the prostate. This has driven researches to try to find a method for testing that provides much more definitive results, thus lowering the rate of unnecessary treatments and reducing overall screening costs.
Recently, new research has shown a correlation between increased levels of a protein called MAN2C1 and the development of metastatic cancers. Another protein called PTEN typically suppresses tumor growth, but increased levels of MAN2C1 have been identified as a cause of reduced efficacy of PTEN; preventing the body from properly fighting off prostate cancer development.
Since prostate cancer develops so slowly, in many cases, it may never progress to a point where it would be lethal. With current screening methods we aren’t able to make a firm determination of which cases have this potential. The presence of high levels of MAN2C1 could be a strong indicator of cancer that is likely to become rapidly growing and metastasize. Knowing this information would allow doctors to more accurately treat patients for the type of cancer that they have. It would make “watchful waiting”, a method where cancer indicators are watched over time to determine appropriate treatment methods, a safer alternative; decreasing the need for immediate treatment. This would have the benefit of reducing unnecessary surgery or radiation therapy.
Knowledge of the effect that MAN2C1 has on PTEN may also play a role in future cancer treatment. If researchers can find a way to prevent MAN2C1 from weakening the effects of PTEN, it could boost the body’s natural immune response to the growth of cancer cells, in effect, preventing prostate cancer from becoming metastatic. As with all new research, there’s still much to learn.