Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in UK men, yet diagnosing prostate cancer is not always straightforward. Currently there are several methods of diagnosing prostate cancer, including measurement of prostate specific androgen (PSA) in the blood, a digital rectal examination, MRI scans, and biopsies.
Each method of diagnosing prostate cancer has problems and can result in false positives and false negatives. A DRE can identify cancers, although it is not always possible to differentiate between benign and malignant tumors without a biopsy. MRI scans are expensive, not widely available, and do not always show prostate cancer. PSA blood tests are not routinely performed, and even when they are conducted, the results of lack reliability. Biopsies may be the most reliable method of diagnosing prostate cancer, but they are costly, invasive, and carry a risk of infection.
“Current diagnosis of prostate cancer is extremely inefficient, leading to unnecessary treatments for many patients,” said Ghulam Nabi, Professor of Surgical Uro-oncology at the University of Dundee.
More than 47,000 patients are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in the UK with more than one in eight UK men developing the cancer at some point in their lives. 11,000 men die from the disease in the UK alone.
Developing an accurate, low cost, and reliable method of diagnosing the disease is critical. There are treatments, but the effectiveness of treatment depends on early diagnosis.
Researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland believe they have the solution. Professor Nabi and his team have developed a new method of diagnosing prostate cancer that is highly accurate and more reliable than other methods currently in use.
The solution is ultrasound scans, or more specifically, shear wave elastography (SWE). Prostate tumors are stiffer than prostate tissue, so when shear waves pass through a tumor they are slowed, and that slowing of the waves can be easily detected and used to form images of the tumor. The definition of the images is far greater than MRI scans.
The researchers conducted a trial using SWE on 200 patients with highly positive results compared to MRI scans. The team was able to detect 89% of prostate cancers, including aggressive forms that had already spread outside the prostate. The technique could also differentiate between benign and malignant tumors., all without the need for invasive surgery.
“It is like someone has turned the lights on in a darkened room. We can now see with much greater accuracy what tissue is cancerous, where it is and what level of treatment it needs,” said Professor Nabi.
The results of the study have recently been published in the Journal of Urology. Professor Nabi is now looking to extend the trial to confirm the accuracy of the technique for diagnosing aggressive prostate cancers.