A ten-minute scan in a supermarket car park could soon form the basis of the UK’s first prostate cancer screening programme.
The test for healthy men aged 55 to 60 detects the cancer before any symptoms appear, similar to mammograms offered to women for breast cancer.
It could offer men peace of mind for a decade, with one expert saying it might reassure them that they will never get prostate cancer.
The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan for prostate cancer has already been offered to 450 men, with another 350 set to be screened in
The new test for healthy men aged 55 to 60 detects the cancer before any symptoms appear, similar to mammograms offered to women for breast cancer
The Daily Mail has campaigned to end needless prostate cancer deaths through better diagnosis. In Britain, more than 47,000 men a year are diagnosed with prostate cancer, one in eight men will get it, and more than 11,000 die from it every year.
The ten-minute MRI scan could prevent thousands of men ‘dying of embarrassment’ by picking up cancer before the urinary and sexual problems which many put off discussing with a GP until it is too late.
Putting men in an MRI machine to search for tiny tumour particles is believed to be more reliable than the current blood test or an uncomfortable internal examination.
Prostate tumours are so slow-growing that one scan in middle age could show a man will never die of the cancer, according to Professor Mark Emberton, who is leading the UCL trials and believes a national screening programme could go ahead in five to ten years. He said MRI could ‘revolutionise’ diagnosis, adding: ‘The trials being done are a world-first and MRI scans are the most important development in prostate cancer diagnosis for 50 years.
The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan for prostate cancer has already been offered to 450 men, with another 350 set to be screened in London this summer as part of a University College London trial
‘If we show this works, we hope policy-makers will examine the evidence and look at screening for all men aged 55 to 60. MRIs are getting cheaper, quicker and simpler, which means they will not need to be done in a hospital. It is quite possible for MRIs to be done in supermarket car parks and to have one in every major town.’
He went on: ‘We hope 90 per cent of all men would get a clean bill of health as a result of having a negative MRI. Many men come to hospital clinics looking for reassurance. A negative MRI is the surest way we have of providing that.’
The MRI scan is less invasive because it does not involve men being injected with dye to detect the blood vessels inside tumours.
The ten-minute MRI scan could prevent thousands of men ‘dying of embarrassment’ by picking up cancer before the urinary and sexual problems which many put off discussing with a GP until it is too late
Currently the only method used to detect prostate cancer – used only for men with symptoms – is a test for a protein called PSA from the prostate which leaks into the blood. But this also happens in older men with enlarged prostates, and through damage to the prostate, such as from a long bicycle ride, making the test unreliable. Professor Hashim Ahmed, chairman of urology at Imperial College London, said: ‘In the future we might be able to justify screening all healthy older men for prostate cancer just as we do for women with breast cancer.
‘This would be so useful as the number of men dying from prostate cancer has barely changed in the last two decades despite advances in treatment.’
NHS England said: ‘NHS England is already rolling out some of the latest developments in MRI scanning for prostate cancer diagnosis and care. This new test is potentially an exciting development that the NHS will look at as more evidence becomes available.’
Why are doctors excited?
A national screening programme for prostate cancer is considered the holy grail – the one thing that would make a major difference to survival chances. Prostate cancer last year became a bigger killer than breast cancer in Britain for the first time, with 11,800 men dying compared to 11,400 women.
Why are so many men dying of prostate cancer?
Men with prostate cancer wait four times longer for a diagnosis than women with breast cancer – an average of 56 days compared to 14 days – and a quarter of men have to wait 126 days. These delays can be the difference between life and death. Men diagnosed in the early stages have a 98 per cent chance of surviving the next ten years. But if it is not caught early enough, the odds of surviving advanced prostate cancer plummet to 22 per cent.
Aren’t men being tested?
Yes – but only if they have symptoms or specifically request a test. A true screening programme, in which all men of a certain age are invited for a scan whether or not they have symptoms, would pick up countless more tumours at an early stage.
What has changed?
The breakthrough in MRI scanning is considered the first step to closing the diagnosis gap. MRI scans are far more accurate than PSA blood tests and biopsies alone. A UK trial last year showed that using MRI scans after a PSA test, but before a biopsy, spotted 46 per cent more tumours – and improved the accuracy of the treatment that followed. More than a quarter of men were given the all-clear by the MRI, meaning they were spared a biopsy.
What about the cost?
There are only enough MRI machines to scan about half the men in Britain. With MRI scanners costing £1 million each, urgent capital funding is needed. And there is a shortage of radiographers and radiologists to operate them. On top of this, each scan costs about £315 – but this is falling and experts believe they will soon cost only £150. Considering the thousands saved in treatment costs by spotting the cancer early, it will be considered cost-effective by the NHS.