The project has been funded as part of the charity Prostate Cancer Research’s racial disparities research programme, aimed at addressing the health inequalities in prostate cancer faced by Black men.
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK. Black men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer compared to White men, and 2.5 times more likely to die from the disease. Despite this, most studies investigating prostate cancer genetics have not involved Black patients.
Lead researchers Dr Greg Brooke and Dr Antonio Marco, from Essex’s School of Life Sciences, said: "Black men are at greater risk of developing prostate cancer, but the reasons for this remain unclear.
“We have identified genetic differences between Black men and other populations in genes linked to prostate cancer, which appears to explain why some men are at higher risk of getting prostate cancer.
"In the future, we wish to create a genetic test based on genetic ancestry so that we can identify men at high risk of developing the disease. Men at high risk could undergo additional screening, allowing for early detection and increasing survival rates."
Dr Naomi Elster, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer Research, said: “Our knowledge of cancer is incomplete, especially when so much of the data we have is drawn from studies which were overwhelmingly of cancer in White people of European descent, and it’s those studies which have informed our diagnostic strategies and drug development. This project, co-led by Drs Brooke and Marco, directly addresses this challenge.”
The researchers will investigate a specific DNA code that only exists in about 50% of Black men, which may increase prostate cancer risk. In contrast this code is very rare in other ethnicities. The project will expand on this to look for additional DNA code differences between ethnicities, which could be linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer. This work could identify men who are at greater or lesser risk from prostate cancer and may need more or less testing and treatment.
Prostate Cancer Research has committed to funding at least three rounds of targeted projects which will explore solutions to the racial disparity within prostate cancer over the next three years, as part of a broader health inequities programme which also focuses on health literacy and data.
Dr Elster added: “We have some knowledge of how hormone signalling may be different in Black men, and this work will build on that knowledge to hopefully create real-life benefits by ultimately being able to tell them if they are high-risk or not, if they should have treatment or can safely avoid it.”