Routine early screening for prostate cancer has been largely credited with a sharp decline in the number of deaths attributed to this disease each year. In fact, while an estimated 180,000 American men are diagnosed annually, only about 26,000 die from the disease. A relatively recent development in prostate cancer screening, however, has given rise to fears that these numbers may soon tell a very different story. The most common early screening tool, the prostate-specific antigen test, has been taken off the table as a routine measure.
The decision to take the PSA out of the screening protocol was prompted by a relatively high percentage of false positives. Since these false positives can lead to invasive biopsies, it was determined the test shouldn’t be used on a routine basis any longer. While some doctors and men still use the PSA for screening, the recommendation change has left a void of sorts that needs to be filled to ensure that men continue to be diagnosed as early as possible.
A new imaging test may very well provide a way to fill that void. The test involves the use of a biomarker that is able to attach itself to cancerous cells within the prostate. The biomarker is given via IV prior to the administration of a PET/CT scan. Although still under study, the test has produced incredibly positive results so far. In some cases, in fact, the screening tool detected more lesions than pathologists were able to find after they removed and examined prostate glands.
Just how soon the new test might be made available on a widespread basis remains unknown. It does, however, provide a great deal of hope that a more definitive replacement for the PSA will soon be found. In the meantime, men are urged to talk with their doctors about routine screening using tools that are available. The PSA, although imperfect, can still serve as a valuable tool in catching prostate cancer in its earliest, most treatable phases.