A recent study shows that new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can accurately detect prostate cancer, sparing men painful biopsies. Prostate Cancer UK has termed the research "the biggest leap forward in prostate cancer diagnosis."

Men can avoid unnecessary biopsies by having a multi-parametric MRI.
Men can avoid unnecessary biopsies by having a multi-parametric MRI.

What did the study find?

A new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique being used to diagnose prostate cancer doubled the number of aggressive tumours detected.

In the study published in the Lancet medical journal, ​576 men in 11 public hospitals in the UK were given a multi-parametric MRI (MP-MRI) scan followed by two types of biopsies. The scans found 93 percent of aggressive cancers compared to biopsies, which only picked up 48 percent.

An MP-MRI can detect the cancer's size, density and proximity to the bloodstream.

The study was conducted by researchers at University College London (UCL), lead by Dr Hashim Ahmed, Scientific Director at UCL Clinical Trials Group.

What's different about the new way of diagnosing it?

Men previously would have a prostate biopsy after they experienced certain symptoms or showed high levels of a protein in their blood, which can only be detected with a Prostate Specific Antigen test (PSA).

A biopsy can be very painful and can cause bleeding and serious infections. It involves using a needle which can sometimes bypass a cancerous mass.

"Prostate cancer has aggressive and harmless forms. Our current biopsy test can be inaccurate because the tissue samples are taken at random," Dr Ahmed said.

"This means it cannot confirm whether a cancer is aggressive or not and can miss aggressive cancers that are actually there."

How serious is prostate cancer?

Data collected from 2011 to 2013 shows that about 12.9 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives.

The highest rates of prostate cancer are found in the US, and the lowest in the South East Asia region.

For men, prostate cancer is as deadly as breast cancer is for women. It is more common among men aged 50 or over although there have been cases where it was detected in relatively young men.

Could this help reduce prostate cancer?

An MP-MRI "could reduce over-diagnosis of harmless cancers by five percent, Dr Ahmed said.

Biopsies can develop sepsis or urinary problems in men with no aggressive tumours or cancer at all.

Prostate Cancer UK, which helped fund the research, said that the trial at the public hospitals could amount to "the biggest leap forward in prostate cancer diagnosis in decades, with the potential to save many lives".

Source: TRTWorld and agencies