New genetic study for metastatic prostate cancer

Finding better therapies for men diagnosed with advanced stages of prostate cancer and helping families is at the heart of Dr. Heather Cheng’s mission and the GENtleMEN Study.
As the GENtleMEN Study’s leader, Dr. Cheng is seeking to use the results of the genetic study to help uncover information that may be important for a patient’s family, and for the patient’s own treatment of metastatic prostate cancer.  

Finding better therapies for men diagnosed with advanced stages of prostate cancer and helping families is at the heart of Dr. Heather Cheng’s mission and the GENtleMEN Study.

As the GENtleMEN Study’s leader, Dr. Cheng is seeking to use the results of the genetic study to help uncover information that may be important for a patient’s family, and for the patient’s own treatment of metastatic prostate cancer.  

“Recently, we discovered that over 10 percent of men with metastatic prostate cancer, meaning that the cancer has spread to distant areas outside the prostate, may carry inherited cancer risk genes,” said Dr. Cheng.  New research shows that this group of men with metastatic prostate cancer who carry inherited cancer risk genes do not always have a family history of prostate cancer, but may have other cancers in their family, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, lymphoma and leukemia, Cheng said. More specifically, patients with inherited mutations in genes, such as BRCA2, that regulate the repair of DNA have an increased risk of developing more aggressive prostate cancer, for example, that can metastasize.

New research shows that this group of men with metastatic prostate cancer who carry inherited cancer risk genes do not always have a family history of prostate cancer, but may have other cancers in their family, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, lymphoma and leukemia, and some men may not have any family history of cancer, Cheng said. More specifically, patients with inherited mutations in genes, such as BRCA2, that regulate the repair of DNA have an increased risk of developing more aggressive prostate cancer, for example, that can metastasize.

“Knowing that a patient has a certain genetic mutation, such as BRCA2 and other genes that are important for DNA repair, may help physicians choose better treatments,” she said.

Calling men from across Washington state

Men who have metastatic prostate cancer across the state of Washington can participate. They can sign up and provide consent through a web-based process. Men take a pre-screening survey, which may take about 40 minutes and will need to provide some basic medical information. Participants will send in a completed saliva kit and mailed back to receive results.

Men are still encouraged to work with their doctors and genetic counselors. The study has no cost to the patient and is approved by SCCA partners, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington Cancer Consortium institutional review board.

“In this study, we seek to remove barriers and improve access to inherited genetic testing that may not be available or covered by insurance, so that men with metastatic prostate cancer can learn information that may be important to their families as well as possibly help guide their own cancer treatment,” Cheng said. “We are also trying to understand the patient reported concerns around genetic testing so that we can improve the process for patients and their families.”

Prostate cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in men in the U.S., following lung and colorectal cancers.

While a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, prostate cancer has high survival rates, especially when it is caught and treated early.

'Making it possible to instill hope into every day'

“The diagnosis of cancer is a devastating event for patients and their loved ones, which makes the role of the oncologist a vital one,” Cheng said. “I strive to offer information, guidance and support with the hope of making the path forward less frightening. Equally important, oncology is ever evolving with new scientific developments, clinical trials, and treatments, making it possible to instill hope into every day."

For Cheng, treating patients is more than a profession.

“I didn’t set out to be a prostate cancer specialist, but things came very close to home when three members of my immediate family were affected by, and two ultimately died of, prostate cancer during my training.”

Looking toward the future, Dr. Cheng hopes that in her lifetime physicians will be able to use new genetics strategies to identify and cure more early-stage cancers.

“If we can find the men with metastatic prostate cancer who carry inherited cancer risk mutations like BRCA2, we may be able to help that man by choosing better treatments for him.  But we can also imagine that this would also be valuable information that his family members could choose to use to change their own health.  So, this information has the potential to benefit many people, which is very powerful.”

For more information on GENtleMEN Study, please visit gentlemenstudy.org or call 206-606-GENT.