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Getting Closer to the Origins of Prostate Cancer
Date:9/9/2009

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The second report, published online Sept. 9 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, uncovered an association between infection with a sexually transmitted parasite, Trichomonas vaginalis, and an increased risk of prostate cancer, especially the virulent form of the disease.

"We found an association between serological evidence of Trichomonas infection and prostate cancers that were either advanced at diagnosis or after follow-up proved to be fatal," said lead researcher Jennifer Rider Stark, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The finding came from a study that compared 673 men in the long-running Physicians Health Study who had prostate cancer against an equal number of cancer-free participants. A blood test showing infection with the parasite indicated a statistically significant incidence of cancers that were potentially deadly because they spread out of the prostate gland.

Women are routinely screened for T. vaginalis, but men aren't, Rider Stark said. "We often only find out if a man is infected if his female partner has symptoms," she said. "Then we also can treat the male population."

It is possible that screening men for the infection and treating it when it is discovered could reduce the risk of life-threatening prostate cancer, she said. "But it is premature to assume that," Stark said. "We need more population-based studies to confirm that the association actually exists. Until other studies also demonstrate the same association, such measures are a way down the road."

Still, "it's exciting to find a risk factor that is potentially important for prevention," Stark said.

Both findings follow a widely reported study, released earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that found that a virus called XMRV is strongly related to the more aggressive form of prostate cancer.

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