Prostate Exam Technology Is Becoming Less Invasive
Men with a family history of prostate cancer who hit age 40 or those with no family history of the disease who reach age 55 can finally rest easy. Technology has reached a point where there are more options beyond a digital rectal exam (DRE) to check out the health of your prostate, which is good news for men who find the thought of the procedure nerve-wracking. Discover how new prostate screenings are making the process of checking for cancer easier than ever.
Prostate-specific antigen tests
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests have been around for more than 30 years, but they have become an increasingly popular prostate cancer screening method in both North America and Europe over the past two decades.
PSA is an enzyme produced by the prostate that combines with sperm during ejaculation, allowing the sperm to survive and swim more freely in the uterus. Healthy men with no prostate issues have low levels of PSA in their blood; those with potential prostate issues may show much higher levels of PSA. However, this could also be indicative of natural prostate enlargement or inflammation of the prostate.
Despite the somewhat common use of PSAs today, the test has still been criticized for its inaccuracies and false positives. In extreme cases, men without prostate cancer received the wrong diagnosis, underwent radiation therapy and experienced incontinence and other bowel issues as a result. Some doctors and cancer specialists still balk at the test due to these inconsistencies, but the test itself has sparked research and cultivation of similar tests and technologies that look promising.
New imaging treatments
Imaging has never been a successful way of screening for prostate cancer, until now. Standard PET (positron emission tomography) scans often failed to detect any noticeable difference in the size and shape of the prostate until far after the cancer had already spread.
However, two clinical tests conducted in 2021 indicate that innovative imaging technology is effective and pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration. This technology uses a "radiotracer," which is a radioactive targeting molecule that attaches itself to a certain type of protein found in prostate cancer cells. When a doctor uses a PET scan on a patient, this radiotracer illuminates as a bright spot on the screen, alerting the medical professional of prostate cancer.
Before this type of imaging, many doctors trying to diagnose prostate cancer had to rely on theory and guesswork based on damage already done to other parts of the body, such as swollen pelvic lymph nodes and damaged pelvic bones. Now, doctors can say with up to 85 percent certainty whether a patient has cancer and also determine where it has spread. In clinical trials, this has led to many patients receiving new types of treatment to target the affected area based on fact and not conjecture.
Supplemental PSA testing
Researchers have been looking for new technology to improve upon and supplement PSA testing and digital rectal exams. Some gains have been made, too, that can help the accuracy of prostate cancer diagnoses. One such promising development is called Parsortix®, developed by international diagnostics manufacturer Angle Labs. While the PSA technology is still in the developmental stage, early testing has shown promise to deliver accurate prostate cancer test results in a matter of minutes. If this test (and others being worked on) can provide accurate enough results to eliminate the need for unnecessary biopsies, doctors and patients have a less invasive tool in the prostate cancer fight.
Here's how it's intended to work, according to the company. The test requires only a 10-milliliter sample of blood from the patient. The test tube of blood is attached to the Parsortix instrument without requiring any preprocessing. The blood works its way through a cassette filtration system that's specifically designed to catch circulating tumor cells (CTCs), which are cancerous cells that have already entered the bloodstream.
After the cassette collects the tumor cells, the Parsortix system adds a stain or coloring to the CTCs, which are then identifiable under a microscope or in a buffered solution. Analysis and diagnosis then become easier for technicians and doctors, making the choice of treatment that much more direct.
DREs: No longer the end-all exam
Although some prostate cancer screening tests are still in their infancy, the research and effectiveness of such products look promising in detecting the early stages of prostate cancer. Eventually, instead of worrying about a potentially uncomfortable rectal exam, men may be able to simply get a blood test. Breathe easy. It's going to be all right.