Genetic Testing: Spotlight on prostate cancer

Knowledge is truly power when it comes to genetic testing for those diagnosed with or at risk of prostate cancer. Here’s how.

In recent years, progress in genetic testing has revolutionized the way we approach cancer. Genetic testing breakthroughs can help identify an individual’s risk of developing certain cancers (and thus best next steps for managing that risk) as well as enable targeted treatment options for those already diagnosed.  CARP wants its members to know that  testing can empower individuals and their loved ones to take control of their health.

Prostate Cancer 101

Prostate Cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Canadian men, with approximately 1 in 9 being diagnosed. The prostate is part of the male reproductive system. It sits below the bladder and in front of the rectum. Its job is to help form semen by producing fluid that mixes with sperm from the testicles. Prostate cancer happens when normal cells in the prostate grow faster or die more slowly than usual. This can lead to a cancerous tumour over time.  As with other cancers, cancer that is localized (only in the original site) tends to have better health outcomes than when it has spread, outside of the prostate (locally advanced cancer ) or to lymph nodes and other parts of the body (metastatic cancer). For this reason, finding prostate cancer early is important. Learn more about Prostate Cancer

Genetic Testing and Prostate Cancer

A genetic test looks at DNA in a sample of cells taken from the blood, tissue, skin or urine. Provincial, territorial or personal health insurance plans may cover the fee if the test is ordered by a doctor. It may also be covered if it is part of a research study.[1]  Otherwise, there may be a fee for testing.

 There are different genetic tests available depending on where someone is in their cancer journey.

Testing for Treatment of Prostate Cancer

For those diagnosed with prostate cancer, genetic testing can be done on the cancer tumour itself.  This testing can provide information about the non-hereditary (somatic) genetic changes which cause the cancer. Finding out more about which genes caused the cancer can help you and your healthcare team make decisions about which treatment options might be most effective.

 Testing for Risk of Prostate Cancer

Genetic blood testing provides information about ‘germline’ mutations, which are changes in the genes that could be inherited.  This kind of genetic testing can give you information about the risk of developing prostate cancer.  This can be particularly important if there is a strong history of cancer in the family, or a family member has certain types of gene mutation that are likely to run in the family.

One example of a genetic mutation that runs in families that is associated with increased cancer risk is BRCA1 and BRCA2. Someone who tests positive for the BRCA2 mutation has a lifetime risk of prostate cancer of approximately 30%.  Five per cent of those with metastatic prostate cancer have BRCA2 mutations.

Genetic testing has pros and cons. Genetic counsellors, who are medical professionals with specialized training, can help individuals understand what the implications of genetic testing may mean for their health and that of their family[2].

Test results aren’t always easy to understand, so genetic counsellors can also help explain the results. If your results show you have a genetic change linked to cancer, they can also discuss ways to help manage your risk[3].


What If Genetic Testing Suggests Higher Risk of Prostate Cancer?

Genetic testing can unlock a range of management options for those at increased risk.

  • Vigilant cancer screenings are recommended to detect the disease at its earliest stages.
  • Preventative medications may be prescribed to reduce the risk of cancer development.
  • Being aware of cancer-predisposing genetic mutations can mean that family members, who may have the same mutations, can also take proactive steps to protect their health.

Health History Conversations

Being able to talk about health history with family members is important. While these can be sensitive topics for some, starting the conversation within families might mean that family members at risk of developing cancer can decide if genetic testing is for them, and have the information and tools they need to best take charge of their health.


Share this CARP newsletter and other resources on with family and friends who might be interested, or speak with your health care professional for more information.



The educational campaign was funded with the support of an unrestricted grant from a Canadian research-based pharmaceutical company.