Harvard researchers have made a major advance towards the goal of a genetic test that may be able to tell the difference between slow growing prostate tumors that can be left untreated and aggressive cancers that require urgent care, HealthDay reported.

Currently, the majority of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are treated with radiation and chemotherapy. This extreme treatment may not always be necessary, as many cases of prostate cancer are so slow growing, they are typically not life-threatening. Chemotherapy and radiation is ideally most effective on prostate cancer that metastasizes, or spreads outside the prostate gland.

"For the first time, we showed in a mouse model that when you take a gene out, you get metastasis and when you put it back in you don't get metastasis," said study author Karen Cichowski, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of genetics at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital. "It looks like the entire pathway is driven by this one gene, the cascade that drives metastasis."

Studies of human prostate cancers have shown the same effect.

“The finding could lead to better treatment of prostate cancer, because the molecule whose production is governed by the gene can be a target of drug therapy,” Cichowski said.

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