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Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men in the United States. Each man’s risk of prostate cancer can vary based on his age, race/ethnicity and other factors, according to the American Cancer Society.

But for understudied populations such as Hispanic/Latino men, prostate cancer can be a significant burden. Within this community, one group is prone to have higher prostate cancer incidence and mortality rates: Puerto Rican men.

Researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center are investigating to gain a better understanding of the underlying cause behind the increased incidence and mortality rates, as limited knowledge exists. They presented their findings at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting.

In its preliminary study, the team looked at the epigenetic changes in Puerto Rican men with aggressive prostate cancer.

Epigenetics looks at the changes in human DNA. The changes, known as DNA methylation, regulate certain genes in the body that can lead to or prevent cancer.

The researchers believed the epigenetic changes in key genes play a critical role in prostate cancer becoming aggressive.  

To get a better understanding, the researchers looked at tumor tissues obtained from biopsies or prostatectomy. They sequenced the DNA from tumor tissue and normal tissue from the same patient and compared their profiles.

“After we did the comparison of the tumor and normal tissue from Puerto Rican men with prostate cancer, we found significant epigenetic changes in the tumor compared to normal tissue. We also tried to overlap these changes with previously published data for mixed populations to compare epigenetic changes in Puerto Rican men with epigenetic changes already reported for other prostate cancer populations and identified some key genes,” said Manishkumar Patel, PhD, a research scientist at Moffitt.

Further, the team conducted a risk analysis using the grading system called the Gleason score.

“Based on the Gleason score, we divided the patients into high- and low-risk groups to see what are the candidate genes that are responsible for aggressiveness,” Patel said. “There are some candidate genes which are significantly associated with aggressive tumors in the prostate cancer patients compared to the ones which are indolent tumors.”

After cross-checking data, Patel and the team found that candidate genes associated with aggressive tumors were also associated with poor survival.

For patients, Patel says the new developments can help the researchers use the genes as biomarkers or potential targets for drugs. They may be able to detect them early or track their progression across treatment therapy.

Their goal is to find treatment options that can better suit the target population.