One of the most dreaded parts of getting tested for prostate cancer is the biopsy, which is done with a transrectal ultrasound.
However, a new and more accurate technique may replace that altogether, and is being trialled nationwide.
The Prostate MRI Imaging Study (Promis) is testing whether the use of advanced MRI scans can detect the condition without the need for biopsies.
A spokesman for Southampton General Hospital, one of the centres taking part in the trial, explained that traditionally, men with suspected prostate cancer have a blood test and, if a higher level of protein is found – known as prostate-specific antigen (PSA) – they are referred on for a transrectal ultrasound (Trus) guided biopsy.
He said: “This is performed under local anaesthetic and involves using an ultrasound probe to guide a needle through the walls of the rectum and into the prostate gland to take samples.
“But as the ultrasound cannot always reliably identify the disease, it can miss some cancers or lead to over-diagnosis, frequently resulting in unnecessary surgery.
“However, the latest imaging technology, known as multi parametric (MP) MRI, can produce accurate and detailed scans that could make it easier to identify whether or not a patient has cancer and, if so, the specific size, position and aggressiveness of it.
“This could enable clinicians to either rule out the need for further testing or, if cancer is found, give a clearer understanding of which part of the prostate is affected.”
Tim Dudderidge, a consultant urological surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, said: “Currently, all men with a raised PSA or abnormal feeling prostate are advised to have a biopsy, though many will not have cancer but another condition which raises PSA levels in the blood such as enlarged prostate.
“But these biopsies can miss cancers in some areas of the prostate which the needle cannot reach, or pick up tiny traces of cancer that might be slow-growing and harmless, leading to men having unnecessary surgery to remove the prostate gland.”
Mr Dudderidge is now working with colleagues at another nine sites across the country to recruit 700 men with suspected prostate cancer for the study by October 2015.
He said: “If, as we think, the study shows us that (MP) MRI can accurately identify those who have cancer and those who don’t, it will truly revolutionise diagnosis for men with prostate cancer.
“It will mean those with a negative scan will avoid undergoing potentially painful and invasive biopsies, while those with positive scans will benefit from their specialists having much greater detail of their cancer at the earliest possible stage.”
Prostate cancer, which mainly affects men over 50, is the most common type of cancer in men with around 37,000 new cases diagnosed in the UK every year.