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Irish-Led Study Awarded Prestigious International Fund to Examine Links Between Prostate Cancer and Obesity

News feed for Trinity College Dublin.

Dec 05, 2013

A new study led by researchers from the School of Medicine in Trinity College Dublin has just received a significant grant of €300,000 from the prestigious World Cancer Research Fund to investigate why obesity makes prostate cancer more aggressive and to see whether a simple exercise programme can improve quality of life and prolong survival for advanced prostate cancer patients.

The number of prostate cancers diagnosed In Ireland has increased from 1,162 in 1995 to 3,122 in 2010, while the number of deaths is just over 500 per annum. In 2008, Ireland had the highest estimated incidence of prostate cancers of all European countries and the third highest incidence globally. Worldwide, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men. In parallel with this rise in the incidence of prostate cancer has been a steady increase in obesity as a public health problem.

Explaining the important link between prostate cancer and obesity Dr Stephen Finn, Associate Professor in Histopathology and Morbid Anatomy in Trinity College Dublin and Consultant Pathologist at St James’s Hospital said: “It is known that men who have prostate cancer are more likely to die of their disease if they are overweight or obese than if they are of a healthy weight. This study aims to investigate why obesity makes prostate cancer more aggressive.”

Dr Finn explained: “In men with advanced cancer, individual cancer cells spread beyond the prostate gland and can be found floating in the blood. These cancer cells are known as ‘circulating tumour cells’ or CTCs. Tiny blood particles (platelets) become stuck to these CTCs  in a process called ‘platelet cloaking’ and may prevent the body's immune system from hunting down and killing the cancer cells before they can spread around the body. There is a greater tendency for blood to clot, due to stickier platelets, in obesity. This suggests that there may be more platelet cloaking of CTCs in overweight men with prostate cancer, which in turn makes the cancer more aggressive.” 

The study, which is being carried out in collaboration with The University of Orebro, Sweden and King’s College London, aims to determine whether in prostate cancer there is more platelet cloaking of CTCs in men who are overweight compared to men who are not, whether regular exercise can improve quality of life and reduce platelet cloaking of CTCs; whether there are specific genes which make platelet cloaking worse; and whether platelet cloaking varies relative to measurements of how easily the blood clots. 

Speaking about the significance of this study Dr Finn said: “Both obesity and prostate cancer are becoming a lot more common and the relationship between the two in an individual patient is becoming more important. We hope to show that a simple, low-cost exercise programme can improve quality of life and prolong life for advanced prostate cancer patients, and hopefully reduce the bad effects of being overweight on cancer outlook for these men. This project is hugely significant because it is one of the few efforts to identify a mechanism underlying the link between obesity and prostate cancer and indeed other cancers." 

200 men with advanced prostate cancer from three European cities including Dublin will take part in the study with some of the men taking part in an organised six month exercise programme. 

Karen Sadler, Executive Director of World Cancer Research Fund said: "Thanks to the generosity of our supporters World Cancer Research Fund can fund innovative research into cancer prevention such as Professor Finn's study. Prostate cancer is one of the biggest killers of men and obesity one of the greatest challenges we face today. This important study could provide vital answers to help men with prostate cancer."  

World Cancer Research Fund is the UK charity in a network of cancer prevention organisations based in Europe, the Americas and Asia, led and unified by World Cancer Research Fund International. The cancer prevention research grant programme is managed by WCRF International.

Media Contact:
Yolanda Kennedy, Press Officer for the Faculty of Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin at or tel: + 353 1 8963551

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| | Last updated: December 5, 2013