(Bloomberg) — A novel test from Genomic Health Inc. helps predict whether prostate cancer is aggressive or slow- growing, giving patients and doctors more information to shape treatment for the most common tumor found in men.

Results from the study presented today at the American Urological Association meeting in San Diego may triple the number of men whose cancer can be closely monitored for growth rather than vigorously targeted for destruction, the Redwood City, California-based company said in a statement. The research in 395 men found the Oncotype DX Genomic Prostate Score provided meaningful detail on which tumors were likely to spread.

While only 3% of low-risk prostate cancers are life threatening, 90% of men choose aggressive care such as surgery and radiation, says Genomic Health CEO Kimberly Popovits. Doctors have few tools to identify those with fast-growing and potentially deadly forms, she says.

 “The issue that is so striking in prostate cancer is that treatment comes with significant, life-long and life-changing side effects,” she says. “If you could confidently say to them, you really do have low-risk disease, then you feel very comfortable going into an active surveillance management program,” she says. “This could be practice changing.”

Genomic Health rose 7.2% to $36.32 at 9:51 a.m. New York time on Wednesday. The shares have gained 19% in the past 12 months through yesterday.

Aggressive therapy

Overtreatment carries high costs for the health care system and for men who may suffer side effects, including impotence and incontinence. The Oncotype DX test, which evaluates 17 genes in tissue taken during a prostate biopsy to establish the grade and state of the cancer, will be available beginning today. The company will begin talking to insurers about covering the cost immediately, Popovits says.

The test also identified a smaller number of patients who had more aggressive disease, suggesting the men needed immediate treatment. Prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 238,590 men in the U.S. this year, according to the American Cancer Society. It kills almost 30,000 each year, second only to lung cancer.

The test will compete with products such as Myriad Genetics Inc.’s Prolaris. The Oncotype DX is also approved for breast and colon cancer was developed in collaboration with University of California, San Francisco, which conducted the study.

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