Scientists have identified a gene which could be instrumental in the growth of prostate tumours.
The discovery could lead to improved cancer diagnosis and treatment, according to researchers from the University of Edinburgh.
They looked at genes which control how the prostate gland is formed and found that one gene, called decorin, may have a key role in tumour growth.
Lead researcher Dr Axel Thomson, from the university's Medical Research Centre for Reproductive Health, said: "We pinpointed which genes were active in embryonic prostate development and compared their behaviour in the development of prostate cancer."
He continued: "Through this process we were excited to discover that the presence of one gene, decorin, was reduced in tumours compared to normal prostate cells.
"This observation suggests that decorin's normal role may be to slow cancer growth, which is a really exciting possibility.
"If our suspicions are verified then this could mean that, in the future, measurement of decorin levels could become a reliable diagnostic test for prostate cancer and also help determine how aggressive the disease is."
Dr Kate Holmes, head of research at charity Prostate Cancer UK which helped fund the research, said: "This type of early-stage research is vital to help us improve our understanding of prostate cancer development and move towards finding better ways to diagnose and treat the disease.
"Every year 10,000 men lose their lives to the disease, yet we still have very little knowledge of how prostate tumours develop and grow. It is vital that more research of this nature is undertaken and supported so that more clues, such as these, can be discovered."
The research is published in scientific journal Plos One.