Dr. Catalona on germline and somatic variants and prostate cancer

Opinion
Video

"All forms of cancer start out by genetic changes in the DNA that cause cancer, so genetic testing becomes very important," says William J. Catalona, MD.

In this video, William J. Catalona, MD, discusses germline and somatic variants and prostate cancer. Catalona is a professor of urology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.

Transcription:

Please discuss the importance of genetic testing in prostate cancer.

People have what they call germline genetics, which basically are what they inherited from their father and their mother. The analogy I use is, it's kind of like the hand that you were dealt in a game of poker or bridge. You can't change it, you have to live with it, and it doesn't change during your lifetime. The other important type of genetic variants are called somatic variants. And these variants are things that you acquire during your lifetime. You don't pass them on to the next generation. They really involve 2 things. One are endogenous things from within. So if someone inherited, say, a deficiency of being able to repair DNA damage, then they would be more vulnerable to environmental influences, such as radiation or carcinogens. And then the others are just sort of the direct negative effects of radiation or carcinogens, and people who who do not have a severe genetic variant. Both of these things are very important to cause cancer because cancer is fundamentally a genetic disease. All forms of cancer start out by genetic changes in the DNA that cause cancer, so genetic testing becomes very important. And the issue is that we're just sort of at early times in understanding the genetics of prostate cancer. We're actually ahead of the people in breast cancer and colorectal cancer. We can explain about 30% of the genetic causes of prostate cancer whereas for breast and colorectal cancer, it's only around 20%. But there's still a lot more out there that needs to be discovered that will become very important for patients in the future.

This transcription was edited for clarity.

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