New Findings that may Help Treat Testicular Cancer

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p53The fact that white men are more susceptible to testicular cancer has long been known. Now, researchers have made a discovery that may explain this differentiation. A genetic variant known to put men at an increased risk of developing the cancer plays a role in protecting fair-skinned men from the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

A study performed by molecular biologist Gareth Bond and colleagues at the Oxford, UK Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research discovered the tradeoff while investigating inherited genes that play a role in increasing the risk of cancer. The study focused on p53, a gene that has been identified as mutated in over 50% of all cancers. p53 produces a protein that operates as a defense against numerous threats, including cancer. When mutations occur in p53, the orders to other cells to commit suicide are not received, so the cells proliferate and form tumors.

The reason this finding is so significant is the common occurrence of cancers that involve the p53 gene. Although this led the researchers to suspect a connection between inherited mutations in p53, or the other genes it activates, and the risk of developing testicular cancer, these types of mutations are difficult to detect.

In cases where a potentially dangerous mutation grows more common within a specific group over time, there are often benefits that are more important than the harm they cause. Whereas the protein produced by p53 normally protects fair skin from sunlight damage, it has been shown to be present in 80% of Caucasian Europeans, while only found in 24% of those of African descent. On the upside, the study also indicates that the disease is easily cured because of the protein’s ability to function at stimulating cell production and halting growth of unwanted cells.

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