“Experimental” test may detect prostate cancer in earlier stages

Men 60+ should speak with their doctor about prostate cancer.

HealthDay news reports that a new blood test developed by a British company may be able to detect prostate cancer in the earliest stages, when it is most responsive to treatment. The test looks for the presence of biomarkers, or a cluster of proteins, that indicate cancer. In a pilot study, the test was reported to be 90% accurate and returned fewer false-positives than the Prostate Specific Antigen [PSA] test, which is generally used to test patients who are believed to have prostate cancer.

Oxford Gene Technology presented their new test this week at the International Conference on Molecular Diagnostics in Cancer Therapeutic Development, which was held in Denver. The American Association for Cancer Research hosted the conference.

The test is getting the attention of people in field of cancer diagnostics, as it may allow oncologists to detect malignant tumors much earlier than they were previously able to. Cancerous tumors are more likely to respond to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation when they are detected in Stage I. Developers specified a group of fifteen biomarkers that are generated in the earliest stages of cancer and are only present in men with prostate cancer. Study participants with prostate cancer were identified as having the disease, and those who did not have malignant tumors were filtered out. The test can also determine whether or not a patient has a malignant or benign condition, giving doctors the ability to more accurately diagnose patients.

A patent for the blood test is pending, so John Anson, President of Biomarker Discovery at Oxford, says the group will not release the names of the proteins that the test identifies. “At the moment, we are taking over 1,800 samples, which includes 1,200 controls with a whole range of ‘interfering disease’ that men of 50-plus are prone to,” he reveals. “We are going on to a much more exhaustive follow-on study.”

Next year, Anson says, Oxford will begin looking for partners to help the further their studies. The technology, he believes, could be used to detect other illnesses, too, including lupus and a rare cancer called malignant mesothelioma. Anson is confident that the test will be available for mainstream use within the next decade.

For years, researchers have been working hard to develop tests that can identify cancer in the earliest stages. The PSA test in general delivers such a high number of false-positives that some men receive treatment that they actually do not need. The emerging field of biomarkers is the first step in advancing what researchers call “personalized medicine,” which allows oncologists to tailor treatment specifically to each cancer patient. Dr. Gordon Mills of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center says that personalized medicine has a ways to go, though.

“Those [personalized] drugs are not going to be very useful unless at the same time we are able to identify patients likely to benefit from them,” he reports.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly-diagnosed form of cancer in American men, responsible for an estimated 32,050 deaths in 2010. One in six men will get prostate cancer, and one in thirty-six will die as a result. Fortunately, the death rate for the illness is decreasing because oncologists are now able to detect its presence much earlier.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation states that men over the age of sixty-five are more likely to be diagnosed, and the older you are, the more your risk increases. African American men are over 50% more likely to be diagnosed, and are almost three times more likely to die from the illness. Family history is also a risk factor, as men with an immediate relative like a father or brother are two times more likely to receive a diagnosed – especially if the immediate family member was diagnosed before turning fifty-five.

Men in Asia have the lowest risk of developing prostate cancer. Here in the United States, men in general are at a higher risk of prostate cancer, and studies have shown that Chinese men who move to the U.S. experience a substantial increase in their prostate cancer risk! [Could our lifestyle have anything to do with that? See our article from September 30th!]

The foundation goes on to report that men who live north of Philadelphia, Columbus, OH and Provo, UT [or any male living above forty degrees latitude in the U.S.] actually have the highest risk of dying of prostate cancer. Some scientists believe this is due to the lack of sunlight during certain months of the year, which affects people’s Vitamin D levels. Symptoms of this cancer include the frequent urge to urinate, pain when urinating, and pain in the lower back and hips, among others. These symptoms, however, are similar to the symptoms of non-malignant conditions like Prostatitis, so doctors must thoroughly examine patients before confirming a diagnosis.


Prostate Cancer Foundation

National Cancer Institute


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