New test could spare unnecessary treatment for future prostate cancer patients


Doctors may in the future be able to spare some prostate cancer patients the harsh effects of invasive treatments thanks to new research funded by the Irish Cancer Society. Using a new approach to identify and measure the aggressiveness of a patient’s prostate cancer, Irish-based researchers are developing a test which has so far proven to be more accurate than current clinical assessments.

Almost 3,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in Ireland . However, many of these men will be diagnosed with low-grade, non-aggressive prostate cancer. In most of these situations, patients will have the option of undergoing ‘active surveillance’. This involves regular consultant visits and blood tests, and a biopsy every three years to check on the status of the cancer in lieu of immediate treatment.

For those men diagnosed with more aggressive prostate cancer, treatment can include radiotherapy or surgery, which can lead to side effects such as urinary and sexual problems. This research was led by Prof. William Watson, Full Professor of Cancer Biology, School of Medicine and Fellow, UCD Conway Institute. If verified through further research and introduced in clinics, the test could likely mean more men being spared such intense treatments where results would show them to be unnecessary.

Commenting on the research, which was recently published in the journal Medical Oncology, Prof Watson said: “Using 156 Irish prostate cancer patient samples, we combined different biomarkers to see if they were more effective at measuring how aggressive the patient’s prostate cancer was. A biomarker is an indicator of the presence of diseases in our bodies, and includes changes in our DNA and proteins.

“We found that, when you combine the biomarkers measured in blood and tumour tissue you more accurately determine which patients have low-grade and aggressive disease. We also used a new mathematical formula to analyse the data, and it’s hoped this formula can be applied to other cancers to better understand how aggressive they are.”

The study involved researchers from UCD, TCD, RCSI and DCU and their affiliated hospitals, pooling their resources and expertise as part of the Prostate Cancer Research Consortium.

Dr Robert O’Connor, Head of Cancer Research at the Irish Cancer Society, added: “This paper highlights vital work being undertaken by world class Irish cancer researchers to identify new ways to improve the diagnosis of cancer. This research is at an early stage and it will take more time and research until any potential benefits reach cancer patients. But it does show the building blocks required to lay the foundations to improve the quality of life of prostate cancer patients. The more we understand this disease, the better chance we have of stopping it in its tracks.”

“The Irish Cancer Society can only invest in vital research because of the public’s generous support. We currently fund more than 100 researchers across Ireland and have spent €25 million on life-saving cancer research since 2010. To continue doing this, we ask for the public’s continued support through their amazing fundraising efforts.”

The ‘Medical Oncology’ research paper Integrating biomarkers across omic platforms: an approach to improve stratification of patients with indolent and aggressive prostate cancer is available online:

November marks Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and the Movember campaign. These findings are revealed as Movember campaign calls on the public to support men’s health. Since 2008, over 100,000 people have got involved and contributed to the Movember cause. Movember Ireland has funded over 30 prostate cancer initiatives, in partnership with the Irish Cancer Society, ranging from financial grants for patients and their families to ground-breaking research that has united the prostate cancer research community to improve outcomes and quality of life for the 1 in 7 Irish men who will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. Sign up now to support men’s health, visit

In UCD Conway Institute, our researchers are embracing the Movember actions of 'Grow, Move, Host'. The Conway Mo team have their funding page on