Magazine article Science News

A Better Test for Prostate Cancer: High Concentrations of Sarcosine Signal Aggressive Cases

Magazine article Science News

A Better Test for Prostate Cancer: High Concentrations of Sarcosine Signal Aggressive Cases

Article excerpt

A compound called sarcosine may distinguish slow-growing prostate cancers from those likely to spread and become lethal, a new study shows. And in an unexpected finding, benign prostate cells take on cancerous characteristics in lab dishes when exposed to sarcosine, suggesting that the compound is less of a bystander and more of a perpetrator in the malignancy, researchers report in the Feb. 12 Nature.

"It's not only a biomarker for aggressive prostate cancer, but it might be involved in the biology of the cancer," says study coauthor Arul Chinnaiyan, a pathologist and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Tests for elevated sarcosine also outperformed the most widely used clinical test for detecting prostate cancer. Sarcosine can be identified in urine, a less invasive test than the blood analysis needed for the prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test routinely given to men to screen for signs of cancer.

Chinnaiyan and his team analyzed 1,126 metabolites in samples of prostate tissue, blood and urine obtained from men with various stages of prostate cancer and from men without the cancer. Sarcosine was undetectable in healthy tissue but turned up in large amounts in cancers confined to the prostate gland and in even greater amounts in metastatic cancers, which had spread beyond the gland. A separate test showed that sarcosine levels in urine were much higher in men with prostate cancer than in men without it.

Sarcosine levels were "at least as good, and perhaps better than PSA" in identifying both the presence and aggressiveness of cancer, says coauthor John Wei of the University of Michigan.

Five other compounds also appeared in large concentrations in metastatic prostate cancer. By measuring concentrations of these compounds, doctors might someday be better able to diagnose the cancer and distinguish dangerous malignancies from slow-growing cancers unlikely to leave the prostate, the findings suggest. …

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