Nerves may play an important role in both the development and spread of prostate cancer, a new study suggests.
The findings could lead to new ways to predict the aggressiveness of prostate cancer, as well as new ways to prevent and treat the disease, according to the researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
The investigators first conducted tests in mice, and then analyzed nerve fibre densities in prostate tissue samples from 43 prostate cancer patients who had not received treatment. Men with aggressive prostate cancer had a higher density of nerve fibres within tumours and in normal prostate tissue surrounding the tumours, compared with men who had less aggressive cancer.
"More work needs to be done, but the findings suggest that nerve density assessment merits further study as a possible predictive marker of prostate cancer aggressiveness," study leader Dr Paul Frenette, a professor of medicine and of cell biology, said in an Einstein news release.
The study appears online in the July 12 edition of the journal Science.
Although nerves are commonly found around tumours, it has been unclear what role they might play in the growth and progression of cancer. These findings raise the possibility that drugs targeting nerves may offer new treatments for prostate cancer, Frenette suggested.
It is also not clear whether these findings apply to other forms of cancer, the study authors noted in the news release.
"Clinical studies show that breast cancer patients who took beta blockers did better than those who were not taking beta blockers," Frenette said. "This suggests that the same mechanisms are involved, but that remains to be seen."
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about prostate cancer.