A new study raises hope for simpler genetic tests to diagnose and treat inherited prostate cancer in young males.

Scientists have identified a rare genetic mutation linked with the disease that claims over 200,000 American lives every year.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Michigan Health System studied 94 families with multiple cases of the disease and identified a common mutation of the gene protein HOXB13 in four of the families.

In a different group of 5,083 unrelated men with prostate cancer, 72 men were found to carry the mutation.

The report published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that men who inherit this mutation have a 10 to 20 times higher risk of developing prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer, which develops in the male reproductive system, has been the most common cause of cancer death in males over the age of 75. Despite 20 years of research, it remains one of the poorly understood disease whose cause has been somewhat linked with heredity, diet and ethnicity.

The study required the DNA sequencing of more than 200 genes in the human chromosome region 17q21-22.

The findings will help provide important clues about how this common cancer develops and turn it into the equivalent of the BRCA test that help identify a woman's genetic risk for breast cancer.

"It's what we've been looking for over the past 20 years," Dr William Isaacs and the study's senior author wrote in a statement.

"It's long been clear that prostate cancer can run in families, but pinpointing the underlying genetic basis has been challenging and previous studies have provided inconsistent results."

"We need to continue studying this variant and look at larger groups of men. Our next step will be to develop a mouse model with this mutation to see if it causes prostate cancer," he added.