Scientists have developed a “game-changing” test that can detect prostate cancer.


The new 15-minute scan means people can avoid having to undergo rectal examinations, according to researchers.

The prostagram treatment trialled by doctors at Imperial College London uses MRI, similar to breast cancer screening for women.

Four hundred volunteers aged between 50 and 69 were tested using the scanning method as well as the standard prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test.

The prostogram was found to be better at detecting aggressive cancers than PSA in the 4 per cent of volunteers who needed treatment.

Around 50,000 men in the UK are told they have the disease each year, and one in eight will be diagnosed in their lifetime.

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The development has been hailed as a “game-changer” by senior author, Professor Hashim Ahmed.

He said: “The number of aggressive prostate cancers missed by PSA highlights the importance of ramping up our research efforts into alternative ways to screen for prostate cancer.”

Imperial College research fellow Dr David Eldred-Evans described the test as a “non-invasive, safe and more acceptable way to test men for prostate cancer”.

He added: “Unfortunately men can often be put off from seeking medical advice for prostate issues because they are worried about the need for a rectal examination.”

He hopes the breakthrough “may encourage more men to have a prostate health check”.

One of the volunteers has now successfully been treated for prostate cancer picked up by the scan, despite it being missed by the PSA test.

Mark, 61, said: “Being diagnosed with prostate cancer picked up by the MRI was a bit of a shock. I had some prostate issues around seven years ago and had a PSA test and everything was fine.

“If I hadn’t taken part in the trial and just gone to my doctor, I would have accepted that my PSA was still completely normal.


“Now if someone asked me, I’d say to request an MRI scan because the PSA is useful but it does have weaknesses.”

Reader Q&A: How does radiation kill cancer if it causes cancer?

Asked by: Odysseus Ray Lopez, US

It’s rather like the way guns can be used to commit crime, or stop it. Radiation causes cancer because its high-energy photons can cause breaks in the DNA strands in your cells. Cells can repair this damage up to a point, but sometimes the repair isn’t perfect and leaves some genes defective. If the break affects one of the many tumour-suppressing genes in your DNA, that cell can become cancerous. But cancer cells are also more vulnerable to radiation than ordinary cells. Part of what makes them cancer cells is their ability to divide rapidly and this normally means that some of the DNA ‘spellcheck’ mechanisms are turned off.

So when a cancer cell suffers a break in a DNA strand, it’s less likely to repair it correctly. Depending on where the break occurs, it might either kill the cell outright, or make it reproduce more slowly. Radiation therapy uses a focused beam that is aimed at just the part of the body with the tumour, and the dose is carefully calculated to cause the minimum collateral damage to healthy cells. Even so, radiation therapy does very slightly increase your chances of developing a second cancer.

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Alexander McNamaraOnline Editor, BBC Science Focus

Alexander is the former Online Editor at BBC Science Focus.