Scientists at the University of Michigan Medical School are part of a team that has discovered a possible cause of prostate cancer, a finding they say could result in better forms of treatment or possibly a cure.

The findings show a recurring pattern of scrambled chromosomes that leads to the merging of specific genes. The activity occurs only in prostate cancer.

The Michigan researchers, with researchers at the Harvard Medical School-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, found the abnormality in the majority of prostate cancer tissue samples they analyzed. The gene fusion was not found in non-cancerous prostate tissue.

The study is being published in Friday's issue of Science.

The research could lead to a more accurate prostate cancer diagnostic test and — with more research — to a new, effective treatment for the disease, said Dr. Arul M. Chinnaiyan, a Michigan pathology professor who directed the study.

"We'd like to think it's the first step," Chinnaiyan told The Detroit News. "A lot of work still needs to be done."

The finding suggests that a similar chromosomal rearrangement could be involved in the development of other solid tumor cancers such as cancers of the lung, breast, colon, ovary and liver.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men, according to the American Cancer Society. The society estimates that, in 2005, 232,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease and 30,350 men will die from it.

Support for the study came from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute's Early Detection Research Network and the institute's Specialized Program of Research Excellence in Prostate Cancer, the Department of Defense, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center Bioinformatics Core and the university's Medical Scientist Training Program.