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New form of prostate cancer screening gets green light

Wednesday 19th December 2018
NICE has backed the standard use of a scan for signs of prostate cancer on the NHS.
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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved the standard use on the NHS of a form of cancer screening that could save many men from unnecessary surgery.

At present, patients suspected of having the disease are offered a blood test that checks for heightened levels of a prostate specific antigen molecule. Those in whom this is present are then offered a biopsy, with samples taken from the prostate.

However, NICE has now recommended that a specialist imaging technique called multiparametric (or mp) MRI is offered first. Studies have indicated that by using this method to produce images taken from three or four angles, doctors may be able to assess clearly whether a biopsy is necessary, as it often becomes evident that there is no need for a biopsy. 

University College London prostate cancer specialist Professor Mark Emberton noted that this recommendation is a world first.

He remarked: “It’s the first test that we’ve managed to develop that can help men avoid a biopsy, and it’s a decision based on research done in the UK, so there’s a lot to be excited about.” 

Around 47,000 men a year in England are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, with about half having an mpMRI. Professor Emberton noted that whether people have had the scan has been a postcode lottery until now. 

Now this is standard, most patients will have the mpMRI and it could mean a lot of them either do not need invasive surgery, or if it happens it will be guided to held doctors make more accurate diagnoses.

“It’s just the beginning, there’s a lot that has to happen now to translate this recommendation into benefit for patients. But if it’s done well it will transform care,” the professor said.

Cancer Research UK notes that a quarter of the men who underwent mpMRI scans did not have cancer and therefore did not require a biopsy.

NICE made its decision on the grounds that the new screening would be cost effective, as it would save money on biopsies and also help ensure those who do need treatment get it sooner.

Written by Martin Lambert

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