Researchers are calling the recent discovery of a genetic mutation associated with hereditary risk for prostate cancer the most clinically important to date.

Men who inherit the gene mutation called HOXB13 have a 10 to 20 times higher risk of developing prostate cancer, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Our findings suggest it could be a valuable early screening tool for men, particularly those with a family history of early-onset disease,” said NC-Chapel Hill scientist Ethan Lange, PhD.

Dr. Lange was part of a team of investigators from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the University of Michigan Health System, Wake Forest University and the Translational Genomics Research Institute.

The particular mutation was found in families of European descent, while two different mutations on the HOXB13 gene were identified in families of African descent. Since only seven of the 94 families studied were of African descent, more research will be required before the significance of those mutations is known.