Do men’s toenails contain clues about prostate cancer prevention?

Photo credit: Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick

A project analyzing men’s toenails to find clues about prostate cancer prevention has been funded by Prostate Cancer Canada and the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation.

Led by Associate Professor Trevor Dummer at the Centre of Excellence in Cancer Prevention, and Dr. Anil Adisesh at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, Dalhousie University, the project will receive $180,000 over two years to measure individual exposures to toxic metals that are known carcinogens and may cause prostate cancer.

Associate Professor Trevor Dummer

Associate Professor Trevor Dummer

Dr Dummer said toxic metals that could be measured in toenails, such as arsenic, were associated with some cancers, but very little was known about what causes prostate cancer.

“Toenails are a valuable window to the past – they provide us with information on exposures during the preceding year.”
Associate Professor Trevor Dummer

Within the more than 30,000 toenail samples collected through the Atlantic PATH project, the team identified 149 prostate cancer patients, using detailed health and lifestyle questionnaires that accompanied the initial sample collection. They are also following up new cases of prostate cancer in the participants.

Using toenail samples of men with prostate cancer and identifying matching participants without cancer, the presence and concentrations of toxic metals, including arsenic and cadmium, will be compared. This would let the team know whether these toxic metal concentrations were a risk factor for the development of prostate cancer, Dr. Adisesh said. “The results will also inform decisions on suitable levels of environmental exposures to these metals in the future, such as drinking water, food, and soil, as well as indicate the degree of risk for groups of people or individuals.”

Prostate Cancer Canada said the research was part of a wider strategy to generate new and practical knowledge in a poorly understood area of prostate cancer prevention, where questions still remain to be answered, including whether there are modifiable risk factors such as exposure to certain environments that increase the likelihood of developing and the severity of prostate cancer, what role lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise play in preventing prostate cancer, and whether men at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer such as those with a family history of the disease can take steps to decrease their risk.

“As a global leader in prostate cancer research, we have made it a top priority to start answering these and other questions,” said PCC’s vice-president of Research, Health Promotion and Survivorship, Dr. Stuart Edmonds. “If there are ways for men to decrease their odds of getting prostate cancer, it is of the utmost importance that we identify what they are and validate them in order to empower men with evidence-based information that will help them make lifestyle choices with the potential to stop prostate cancer before it starts.”

Picture credit: Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, Dalhousie University

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