Xu thinks that by using these gene variants and family history as a guide, "we can use this information to predict which men have a risk of developing prostate cancer."
Currently, age, race and family history are the three risk factors associated with increased risk of prostate cancer.
The researchers said the study is important because it's one of the first to show how a combination of several genes can affect disease risk. Genomics teams across the United States are looking for combinations of genes that may contribute to common diseases such as cancer, diabetes and asthma, according to background information for the study.
Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancer at the American Cancer Society, said the findings are important, but it's not yet clear how they could be used in clinical practice.
"This study is helping us understand the role of genetic variants in the risk for prostate cancer," Brooks said.
But, he added, "If you develop a test and tell a man you have five times the risk of developing prostate cancer as other men, what do you do with that?"
Brooks also noted that these genetic variants don't indicate if the disease is aggressive and needs aggressive treatment, or if it's a slow-growing cancer that may not need immediate treatment.
"We still need to find markers of disease aggressiveness. We still need better treatments," he said.
Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in American men, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, behind lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
The society estimates that there will be about 218,890 new cases of prostate cancer in the United States this year, and about 27,050 men will die of the disease.
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