New methods for prostate cancer detection

Prostate cancer generally affects older men and since that group is a powerful and influential one, a lot of attention is paid to the diagnosis and treatment of that condition. Now there is a new study that provides promise of a better early detection system than the PSA blood test in which elevated levels leads to biopsies to see if there really is a tumor. The PSA test is not a very good one and the biopsies that are often triggered by it have problems.

This medical procedure [biopsies], which was recently described by an American urology professor as ‘barbaric’, shows that 70% of the subjects do not have cancer. The examination is unnecessarily painful and involves risk for these patients, and it is also costly to carry out.

The proposed new method uses ultrasound detection.

Patients are given a single injection of a contrast medium containing tiny bubbles, which are shown by the ultrasound scanner right down to the smallest blood vessels. Using advanced image-analysis techniques that can recognize the characteristic blood vessel pattern in tumors, the computer then generates an image showing where the tumor is. The examination only takes one minute, and the results are available no more than a few minutes later. These examinations also save money, because costly biopsy analysis is no longer necessary.

Since the PSA test is widely used and has such a high false positive rate, anything that leads to a quicker, cheaper, and more accurate diagnosis is a good thing.


  1. daved says

    I believe you mean *prostate* cancer, unless you are referring to cancer that is bowing forward.

  2. AsqJames says

    Another problem with using biopsies to diagnose prostate cancer (explained very well from about 18’30” on this edition of the BBC R4 programme Inside Health from January) is they are prone to false negatives.

    a recent trial published this month looked at patients that had two negative biopsies and then had a very, very detailed biopsy – so these are men that were told twice that they were clear – 58% of them were found to have clinically significant disease

    The piece was covering recent changes to NICE guidelines on prostate cancer diagnosis to include MRI scanning. I like the way Inside Health gives a balanced assessment of the strengths, weaknesses and difficulties involved in the research/tests/treatments they cover, and will listen out for them covering this new research. It may well turn out to be every bit as good as claimed, but I did find the linked article a little…what’s the word? “Bombastic”?

  3. kyoseki says

    At school, I remember our biology teacher making one of the pupils lie on the floor after calling it the prostrate gland (ah, the joys of English Grammar School).

    … needless to say, none of us called it that again.

  4. Mano Singham says

    daved and kyoseki,

    Thanks for pointing out the error! I have corrected it (after lying on the floor for a few minutes).

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    I had a prostate biopsy done shortly before their uselessness was acknowledged. The fellow before me went into the exam room, the door shut, and I was treated to periodic howls of pain over the next twenty minutes or so. When it was my turn, I told the doctor he should soundproof the room. He replied that they had done so. The procedure certainly was uncomfortable.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    The new procedure sounds great, as long as they can guarantee the bubbles won’t coalesce and form an embolism.

  7. sailor1031 says

    You’d think some kind of nano-attachment to the end of the waving digit would be all that was required… need for an ultrasound wand.

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