The revolutionary discovery transforming the way we look at prostate cancer

Professor Vanessa Hayes explains the revolutionary discovery that can transform the treatment of prostate cancer.

One in four Australian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer; but for such a common disease there’s much we don’t know. Many men are being over-treated with invasive treatments that mightn’t be necessary.

How prostate cancer affects men

Prostate cancer can have a profound physical impact, with frequent urination, pelvis pain and reduced sex drive. But as Professor Vanessa Hayes argues, prostate cancer can do as much damage to the mind as the body.

“Men don’t want to talk about side effects or living with it. Most men will die with prostate cancer, not from prostate cancer,” she says.

“This means having to live 15, 20 or 25 years knowing you have cancer.”

Why prostate cancer is hard to deal with

Prostate cancer differs from other cancers because it has no ‘modifiable risk factors’ based on lifestyle. E.g. time in the sun is a modifiable risk factor for melanoma, while smoking is for lung cancer.

The likelihood of getting prostate cancer is affected by genetics: ageing, family history and ethnic background.

How genomic research helps

We can’t help the genes we’re born with. You can’t change your age, family history or ethnicity. But understanding the genetics that cause cancer to emerge will help.

“We need to look at the DNA of tumours and see what’s causing prostate cells to become cancerous,” says Professor Hayes.

Garvan scientists can examine the entire DNA sequence of a cancer cell. Previously, we’d only look at a small portion of the genome, about two percent. But new technology lets us inspect the particular drivers of prostate cancer.

“Prostate cancer is a disease of altered genetic code. And we can read these codes; so if there’s a genetic on/off button, we can provide better tools for clinicians.”

Next steps

If we understand the genomics of disease, we can tailor the treatment. This ensures high-risk patients are treated effectively, while low-risk patients avoid unnecessary treatments.

“We want to put prostate cancer into treatment buckets. A ‘do nothing’ bucket; a ‘do little’ bucket; a ‘remove prostate’ bucket. And a ‘tailored treatment’ bucket.”

“We want to treat the individual. Each person is unique and so is their cancer and ultimately their treatment. Genomics will help us target cancer treatments.”

What you can do

In supporting organisations like the Garvan Institute, you’ll be surprised how far your dollar goes.

As Professor Hayes explains, “We always discover something new: a new way to look at disease or even approaching our questions differently.”

To contribute to the Garvan Institute’s fight against prostate cancer, visit



Reprinted with permission from Over60 –
Author: Ben Squires