Screening ALL middle-aged men for prostate cancer

Screening ALL middle-aged men for prostate cancer would pick up 8,000 extra cases a year and save thousands of lives, new study finds

  • Dramatic findings could pave way Britain’s first prostate screening programme
  • The 15-minute scan would be used on all men between the ages of 50 and 70 
  • Will spot tumours before they become dangerous and could save thousands

Screening all middle-aged men for prostate cancer using MRI scans would pick up 8,000 additional cases a year, a landmark trial has found.

The dramatic findings could pave the way for Britain’s first prostate screening programme.

The 15-minute scan would be used on all men between the ages of 50 and 70 to spot tumours before they become dangerous – which could save thousands of lives.

The breakthrough study, by experts at Imperial College London, could pave the way for Britain’s first prostate screening programme. (Stock image)

The breakthrough study, by experts at Imperial College London, is the first time any scan or test has been shown to be accurate enough for a routine prostate screening programme.

In time it could lead to a national system – modelled on the breast cancer screening scheme – under which all middle-aged men would be invited for scans every five years.

The trial, which saw 411 healthy men scanned, found MRI picked up 50 per cent more aggressive cancers than using the standard PSA blood test.

And, crucially, MRI scans were no more likely than PSA tests to pick up the small, insignificant tumours that doctors are worried could lead to ‘overtreatment’ – if left undetected these slow-growing tumours would never cause a problem.

The team predicts that if extended across the UK, MRI scans would increase the number of aggressive cases of prostate cancer detected each year by between 7,466 and 8,350.

The researchers stress that a larger study of at least 20,000 men is needed before they can take their results to the National Screening Council, which means it would be at least six or seven years before a screening programme could be launched.

The 15-minute scan would be used on all men between the ages of 50 and 70 to spot tumours before they become dangerous. (Stock image) 

But the trial provides the first ‘proof of concept’ that MRI screening improves detection rates without leading to a boom in overtreatment. 

Questions and answers

Why are doctors so excited?

Creating a national screening programme for prostate cancer would make a major difference to men’s survival chances. Prostate cancer has become a bigger killer than breast cancer in Britain for the first time.

Why is this?

All middle-aged women are invited for mammogram scans every three years as part of the national screening programme, which is credited with saving 1,400 lives a year. 

The equivalent for prostate cancer has never been attempted before because the standard blood test – the PSA test – is unreliable.

What’s changed?

The breakthrough in MRI scanning is considered the first step to closing the diagnosis gap. Experts have shown the scans could be accurately used without men first having a PSA test, meaning any healthy man could be scanned.

What about cost?

MRI machines cost about £1million each, and not all hospitals have them. Each scan costs around £315, but experts say advances mean this will soon drop to £150 a time. And spotting prostate cancer early could save the NHS thousands of pounds per patient.

The Daily Mail has been campaigning for more than 20 years for an improvement in prostate cancer treatments and diagnosis.

Study leader Professor Hashim Ahmed, whose results will be presented via video link to the American Society of Clinical Oncology congress at the end of the month, said last night: ‘This is massive – it will lead to a re-think about how we detect prostate cancer.

‘It has the potential to form the basis of a new screening programme for prostate cancer and could be a game-changer.

‘MRI has the advantage of passing over the many cancers which don’t need to be diagnosed and focusing on the types of cancers which are more likely to shorten life.

‘By finding these aggressive cancers at the earliest opportunity, men have the opportunity to be offered less invasive treatments with fewer side effects.’

At the moment men usually only find out they have prostate cancer when they start displaying symptoms.

They then request a PSA blood test from their GP, which they are eligible for after the age of 50. 

But PSA has never been deemed accurate enough for a national screening programme.

Experts say this is the key reason that prostate cancer deaths are still on the rise and that the disease now kills 12,030 men in the UK a year.

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