A major advancement in the detection of prostate cancer in the UK has amounted to the “biggest leap forward” in diagnosis of the disease. The study, published in The Lancet, almost doubles the number of aggressive tumors discovered, and significantly cuts the number of men undergoing unnecessary biopsies.
The new procedure uses a special type of MRI scan. Known as multi-parametric MRI scanners, they combine four different types of images in order to build up a much more detailed picture of the prostate, allowing doctors to target the cancer with a far greater degree of accuracy during biopsies. This new technique was able to pick up on 93 percent of aggressive cancers, compared with just a 47 percent success rate when the traditional method was used.
The traditional technique is basically a hit and miss method. It involves taking those men who have shown elevated levels of a certain protein associated with prostate cancer in their blood and subjecting them to an invasive biopsy that involves using 12 needles to take random samples from the entire prostate. This can miss cancers that are there, fail to identify aggressive ones, or turn out to be completely unnecessary, potentially giving men undesirable side effects such as bleeding, infection, and erectile dysfunction.
“Taking a random biopsy from the breast would not be accepted, but we accept that in prostate,” one of the researchers, Dr Hashim Ahmed, told the BBC. But the new Prostate MRI Imaging Study (PROMIS) found that it could prevent over a quarter of all men suspected of cancer from going through an unnecessary biopsy, as they were better able to tell whether they had the disease or not.
Despite such a dramatic leap forward in the diagnosis of prostate cancer, however, it seems that even if it was rolled out across the country, not everyone will be able to benefit. Only 32 percent of men eligible live in an area where they would have access to the procedure, due mainly to a shortage in scanners and staff.
The investment in rolling out new machines that are capable of taking multi-parametric MRI scans would be expensive, especially for the cash-strapped National Health Service (NHS) at the moment. But with 120,000 men every year undergoing biopsies, the new procedure would be preventing unnecessary biopsies on men who don’t need it, reducing the amount spent on aftercare, and making future treatment far more efficient. Either way, the NHS is currently reviewing whether or not to offer the procedure.