New prostate cancer test could spare men from needless biopsies
A new blood test for prostate cancer could spare men from needless biopsies and reach accuracy rates of 94 per cent, research suggests.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among British men, with 47,000 diagnoses a year. Currently, men with possible signs of the disease are offered a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. However, the tests are notoriously unreliable.
Every year tens of thousands of men undergo a tissue biopsy of the prostate gland as a result, but tumours are only found in around a quarter of cases, experts said.
The new study found that combining their blood test with the PSA check was far more accurate, meaning far more cases were detected, without going under the knife.
Researchers from Oxford BioDynamics, in collaboration with Imperial College and the University of East Anglia (UEA) developed a new chromosomal test which could be combined with the PSA.
Publishing their findings in the journal Cancers, the team said the PSA test currently widely used in the NHS does not have sufficient accuracy, resulting in numerous unnecessary prostate biopsies in men with no cancer and “false reassurance in some men with cancer”.
A pilot study of 147 patients evaluated the new test, called PSE, and found it significantly improved detection of the disease.
All the men in the study had prostate cancer and the test was 94% accurate. The next stage of research will be to use the test on a group of men where the cancer status is unknown.
The team wrote: “This new PSE test is accurate, rapid, minimally invasive and inexpensive. If successful in larger trials, it may significantly improve prostate cancer diagnosis.”
Professor Dmitry Pshezhetskiy, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and kills one man every 45 minutes in the UK.
“There is currently no single test for prostate cancer, but PSA blood tests are among the most used, alongside physical examinations, MRI scans and biopsies.
“However, PSA blood tests are not routinely used to screen for prostate cancer, as results can be unreliable. Only about a quarter of people who have a prostate biopsy due to an elevated PSA level are found to have prostate cancer.
“There has therefore been a drive to create a new blood test with greater accuracy. When tested in the context of screening a population at risk, the PSE test yields a rapid and minimally invasive prostate cancer diagnosis with impressive performance. This suggests a real benefit for both diagnostic and screening purposes.”
'We desperately need a screening programme'
Dr Jon Burrows, chief executive at Oxford Biodynamics, said: “There is a clear need in everyday clinical practice for a highly accurate blood test that can screen men for prostate cancer and accurately identify those at risk, while sparing those who up to now would be subject to unnecessary, expensive and invasive procedures.”
Simon Grieveson, assistant director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: "Earlier this year, research revealed that over 10,000 men each year are diagnosed too late, when their prostate cancer is incurable.
“That’s why we welcome promising new research like this into new possible tests which could help diagnose men accurately and at an earlier stage. However, we now need to see this tested in far greater numbers of men before we can determine just how effective this approach could be."
“We desperately need a screening programme for prostate cancer and Prostate Cancer UK is committed to driving the research and evidence required to make screening a reality and to save thousands of men’s lives.”
Claire Knight, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “There is no national screening programme for prostate cancer because the current test we have, the PSA test, isn't reliable enough. So, it’s encouraging to see more research into new methods, but we need larger, longer-term studies to fully understand how effectively this will work in practice.”