Recent weeks have seen some pretty passionate debate around the country about prostate cancer screening. Should men routinely get PSA tests even though most of the men with elevated PSA levels actually have no cancer?
A nanodevice makes prostate tissue surrounding a tumor glow green under special light. (Image courtesy of the Urology Nanolab)
A federal panel suggested that these tests for PSA (prostate-specific antigen) do more harm than good because suspicious results put many men through follow-up testing that proves unnecessary.
When screening shows a man has high PSA levels, doctors take a prostate biopsy, or tissue sample. If the sample doesn’t seem to have cancer cells, but PSA levels stay high over time, doctors keep taking these costly and potentially painful biopsies to make sure there’s really no cancer.
But many doctors say the federal panel’s finding does a disservice because the PSA tests and biopsies can find prostate cancer when it’s most treatable.
Now technology under development could potentially provide a faster, more efficient answer about whether a man has cancer, taking some of the sting out of the process.
City of Hope researchers recently shared study results showing that a tiny device they developed can tell the difference between prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH. A common, noncancerous condition, BPH can cause high levels of PSA just like prostate cancer does.
The experimental nanodevice is a molecule created to glow under a special light. The researchers engineered it so that it’s drawn to enzymes active in cancer. When they exposed samples of certain prostate tissue to their molecules, the samples that had prostate cancer glowed more intensely than tissue with BPH.
The scientists hope that doctors can eventually use the technology to diagnose prostate cancer more accurately — the first time.