Researchers find new biomarker for fatal prostate cancer

February 26, 2009

Researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have confirmed their earlier findings that men who have too much calcium in their bloodstream subsequently have an increased risk of fatal prostate cancer, but they have also identified an even more accurate biomarker: high levels of ionized serum calcium.

Researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have confirmed their earlier findings that men who have too much calcium in their bloodstream subsequently have an increased risk of fatal prostate cancer, but they have also identified an even more accurate biomarker: high levels of ionized serum calcium.

The research was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (2009; 18:575-8).

“Scientists have known for many years that most prostate cancers are slow-growing and that many men will die with, rather than of, their prostate cancer,” said senior author Gary G. Schwartz, PhD, of Wake Forest. “The problem is, how can we determine which cancers pose a significant threat to life and need aggressive treatment versus those that, if left alone, are unlikely to threaten the patient’s life? These findings may shed light on that problem.”

The team found that men in the highest third of ionized serum calcium levels are three times more likely to die of prostate cancer than are those with the least amount. They also confirmed a previous finding of a doubling of risk for fatal prostate cancer among men whose level of total serum calcium falls in the highest third of the total serum calcium distribution.

“These new findings, if confirmed, suggest that men in the lower end of the normal distribution of ionized serum calcium are three times less likely than men in the upper distribution to develop fatal disease,” Dr. Schwartz said. “These men may choose to delay treatment or perhaps defer it altogether. It also suggests that medicine may be able to help in lowering the risk of fatal prostate cancer by reducing serum calcium levels.”