Prostate cancer blood test heralded as ‘the most accurate ever’ could cut invasive biopsies by a third
- New prostate cancer blood test has been heralded as ‘the most accurate ever’
- The screening looks for genetic changes that could indicate a prostate tumour
- Mitomic Prostate Test can flag up cancer with 92% accuracy, early studies say
A blood test heralded as ‘the most accurate ever’ way to detect prostate cancer could spare thousands of men suspected of having the disease from the risks and discomfort of invasive biopsies.
The screening looks for genetic changes which can be detected in the blood and can indicate a tumour in the prostate.
At present, doctors rely on a different blood test that measures levels of prostate specific antigen, or PSA.
This is a chemical released by the prostate – a walnut-size gland that sits below the bladder in men – when it is not functioning properly.
At present, doctors rely on a different blood test that measures levels of prostate specific antigen, or PSA (stock image)
While the test is helpful, it is notoriously unreliable. Just one in four men who undergo a biopsy after a worrying PSA test actually have prostate cancer.
The biopsy involves thin needles being inserted through the skin and into the prostate to extract tissue for testing. It may require a general anaesthetic, and three per cent of men who have a certain type of biopsy develop a serious infection as a result.
Some NHS hospitals now have a special kind of MRI scanner, which allows doctors to see inside the body and it can help them better decide which patients should have a biopsy.
However, a blood test would provide a cheaper, more convenient alternative.
The new Mitomic Prostate Test is able flag up cancer with 92 per cent accuracy, according to early studies. The British company behind it, MDNA Life Science, says that if it was widely adopted, it could slash the number of biopsies by a third.
It is also designed to spot whether tumours are at a medium or high risk of spreading – previously only possible using physical tissue samples taken during a biopsy.
Initially, the Mitomic Prostate Test will be available through private healthcare clinics and will cost from £450. The manufacturers claim to be currently working with the NHS to expand its availability.
Dr Nikhil Chopra, a GP based in Beaconsfield, is the first to offer the test. He says: ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for – a non-invasive test for prostate cancer. PSA levels fluctuate for a number of reasons, many of them benign. Physically examining the prostate via the rectum isn’t perfect either. This test may give us a definitive way to detect the disease without a biopsy.’
Dr Chopra says although MRI scanning is improving, it still throws up false positives, showing results that indicate possible cancer when there is none, and false negatives.
‘It’s early days, and as with any new test this one may turn out to be more, or less accurate than first thought,’ he says. ‘At present, it will help us work out better who to send for further investigation. It also allows us to better spot if a patient’s cancer is more aggressive and likely to spread, therefore needing more rapid treatment.’
Initially, the Mitomic Prostate Test will be available through private healthcare clinics and will cost from £450. The manufacturers claim to be currently working with the NHS to expand its availability (stock image)
Prostate cancer is diagnosed in about 50,000 British men each year, making it one of the most common cancers in men, and numbers are rising. One in six men will be diagnosed with the disease.
By far the biggest risk factor is age – it’s most common in those aged over 75. Genetics also play a role, with tumours far more likely to strike men with a direct family member who has also been affected. And prostate cancer is more common in black males than white or Asian men.
In general, the prognosis is good, with 84 per cent 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 urged caution.
‘If a patient had borderline PSA test results, but his prostate felt normal on examination and this test came back negative, it may reassure us a biopsy isn’t necessary,’ he says. ‘But there is still a chance that, used alone, it could give a false positive, meaning a man would still have to have a procedure to discover he didn’t have cancer after all.
‘It has the potential to be more accurate than a PSA testing, but more research is needed.’
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