A blood test announced as "the most accurate way ever" to detect prostate cancer could save thousands of men suspected of having the disease from the risks and discomforts of invasive biopsies.
The screening looks for genetic changes that can be detected in the blood and indicate a tumor in the prostate.
Currently, doctors rely on another blood test that measures the levels of prostate-specific antigen or PSA.
This is a chemical released by the prostate – a gland the size of a walnut under the bladder of men – when it is not functioning properly.
Currently, doctors rely on another blood test that measures the levels of prostate-specific antigen or PSA (stock image)
Although the test is useful, it is notoriously unreliable. Only one in four men who undergo a biopsy after a worrying PSA test actually has prostate cancer.
The biopsy means that thin needles are inserted through the skin and into the prostate to extract tissue for testing. It may require a general anesthetic and 3 percent of men with a certain type of biopsy will develop a serious infection.
Some NHS hospitals now have a special type of MRI scanner that doctors can use to look into the body and help them better decide which patients should undergo a biopsy.
However, a blood test would offer a cheaper, more convenient alternative.
The new Mitomic Prostate Test is able to signal cancer with 92 percent accuracy, according to early studies. The British company behind it, MDNA Life Science, says that if it is used on a large scale, the number of biopsies could fall by a third.
It is also designed to see if tumors have a medium or high risk of spreading – previously only possible with the help of physical tissue samples taken during a biopsy.
Initially, the Mitomic Prostate Test will be available through private clinics and will cost from £ 450. Manufacturers are currently claiming to work with the NHS to expand availability.
Dr. Nikhil Chopra, a doctor based in Beaconsfield, is the first to offer the test. He says: "This is what we have been waiting for – a non-invasive test for prostate cancer. PSA levels fluctuate for a number of reasons, many of which are benign. Physically examining the prostate through the rectum is also not perfect. This test can give us a definitive way to detect the disease without a biopsy. & # 39;
Dr. Chopra says that although MRI scanning improves, it still yields false positives, with results indicating potential cancer when there is none, and false negatives.
"It's in the beginning, and as with any new test, it may prove to be more or less accurate than previously thought," he says. "At the moment we can better determine who we should send further research. It also allows us to better recognize whether a patient's cancer is more aggressive and likely to spread, requiring faster treatment. & # 39;
Initially, the Mitomic Prostate Test will be available through private clinics and will cost from £ 450. Manufacturers currently claim to work with the NHS to expand availability (stock image)
Prostate cancer is diagnosed in about 50,000 British men every year, making it one of the most common cancers in men and increasing the number. One in six men will receive the diagnosis.
Age is by far the largest risk factor – it is most common in people over 75 years of age. Genetics also play a role, with tumors much more often affecting men with immediate family members who have also been affected. And prostate cancer is more common in black men than in white or Asian men.
Overall, the prognosis is good, with 84 percent of patients surviving ten years or more. But it still kills 11,500 men a year.
Urologist Marc Lucky welcomed the development of the new test, but insisted on caution.
"If a patient had borderline PSA test results, but his prostate felt normal on examination and this test came back negative, it can reassure us that a biopsy is not necessary," he says. "But there is still a chance that, if used alone, it could give a false positive, meaning that a man should still have a procedure to discover that he didn't have cancer.
"It may be potentially more accurate than a PSA test, but more research is needed."
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