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New prostate cancer test could give men the all-clear for life

The disease kills more than 11,600 men in the UK each year 

Stephen Fry announces he is recovering from prostate cancer

A new prostate cancer test for men is currently being trialled in the UK.

The £5m trial by the University College of London begins in August and will involve a 10-minute MRI scan.

The scan, which has been likened to a mammogram, will detect dangerous cancers years before they cause any harm and could become the world’s first universal screening programme for prostate cancer.

Some 450 men aged 55 to 75 have already had the potentially lifesaving MRI scan as part of a clinical trial, with 350 more due later this year.

Currently, the disease kills more than 11,600 men in the UK each year and because it develops slowly there are often no immediate signs or symptoms.

Traditional prostate screening which looks for markers in the blood, is notoriously unreliable.

The blood test, called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, measures the level of PSA.

However, while raised levels of the protein PSA in the blood are linked to prostate cancer, about 75 per cent of men with high levels turn out to not have aggressive cancer that needs treatment and about 15 per cent of men with cancer have normal levels of PSA.

As such, PSA testing is now not offered in most health services as standard.

By contrast, the new MRI test, which involves no injection or radiation and does not require a doctor, has been created to diagnose only cancers which will affect “quantity or quality of life”, according to Professor Mark Emberton, from University College London (UCL), who is co-leading the project.

Emberton believes that because prostate cancer is slow-growing, around 90 per cent of men who take the test between the age of 55 to 60 can be told they’re “very unlikely” to ever get the disease.

Results of the scans will be classified on a traffic light basis: green indicating all clear, yellow suggesting a need for further tests, and red meaning an urgent referral to a cancer specialist.

If implemented, Emberton says the test would be offered to men over the age of 55 and performed in supermarket car parks in every major UK town.

Karen Stalbow, from Prostate Cancer UK called the trial “an exciting step” towards developing a national screening programme for prostate cancer.

“If the results are positive, then MRI scanning could offer a non-invasive first stage of prostate cancer diagnosis in the future,” Stalbow said.

“Anything that offers men an easy and more effective way to be checked for prostate cancer is a good thing and we await the results with interest.”

NHS England added: “NHS England is already rolling out some of the latest developments in MRI scanning for prostate cancer diagnosis and care as part of our ambitions to catch more cancers earlier and save lives.

“This new test is potentially an exciting development that the NHS will look at as more evidence becomes available.”

According to the NHS, symptoms of prostate cancer can include:

  • An increased need to urinate
  • Straining while you urinate
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • A feeling that your bladder has not fully emptied

However, it adds that while these symptoms should not be ignored, they do not mean you have prostate cancer and can be caused by something else, such as prostate enlargement.

The NHS advises that if you are concerned you may be experiencing symptoms of prostate cancer, you should make an appointment to see your GP.

A recent study by the Australian and New Zealand Urogenital and Prostate (ANZUP) Cancer Trials Group suggested that a daily pill could offer an alternative life-extending treatment for men suffering from prostate cancer.

Enzalutamide, a drug that works by blocking the effect of testosterone on prostate cancer cells, showed modest benefits for patients with advanced prostate cancer.

The study consisted of giving 1,125 men with advanced prostate cancer an injection of testosterone-suppressing medicine, and either a daily enzalutamide tablet or one of three standard treatments.

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Four in five (80 per cent) of the men who received enzalutamide were alive after three years, the study found, compared to 72 per cent of those who received the standard treatment.

You can find more information about prostate cancer at prostatecanceruk.org and cancerresearchuk.org.

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