Reports in a UK tabloid of a new genetic test for prostate cancer that is more than 90% accurate suggest that the debate around prostate screening may be moving into a new era.
The gene in question, PCA3, which was first identified ten years ago, is only found in the prostate and increases by an average 34 times when a cancer develops. The new genetic test is carried out on a urine sample, collected after the prostate has been 'lightly massaged'.
Researchers, reporting an assessment of its efficacy in 1,000 men at the American Urological Association, hailed it as 'a specific and accurate prostate cancer marker.'
Currently the only diagnostic method available on the NHS, a blood test for the Prostate Specific Antigen (or PSA) protein is considered unsatisfactory for routine screening as it is so unreliable.
'The problems with PSA is that high levels can be simply a sign of age, the natural size of prostate and benign prostate disease as well as cancer," Roger Kirby, professor of urology at St George's Hospital, London, told the Daily Mail. 'As a result, a substantial number of men every year go on to have one or more negative biopsies. These men are left in limbo, not knowing whether they have a cancer inside them. It causes whole families agonising anxiety and uncertainty.'
MHF CEO Peter Baker cautiously welcomed the development saying: 'we would support any development that enables a faster and more accurate diagnosis of prostate cancer without the need for a very unpleasant and potentially risky biopsy'.
The PCA3 test has not yet been approved for use in the NHS or by the Food And Drug Administration in the the USA. However, there are plans for a large multi-centre trial, in several countries including the UK within the next year or so.
Prosate cancer kills over 10,000 men every year in the UK. But before health campaigners get too excited about the prospect of a screening test for the nation's second biggest male cancer killer, they should look closely as how the PCA3 test is carried out. How many men will volunteer to have their prostate 'lightly massaged'?
Page created on October 23rd, 2006
Page updated on December 1st, 2009