New Test Beats PSA at Predicting Prostate Cancer Risk

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Researchers have developed a genetic test they claim beats the standard diagnostic tool for predicting a man's risk of prostate cancer. The new test could also spare men who have undergone negative biopsies from having to repeat the procedure. This is good news for a family member who had a recent biopsy.

A scientist from the UC San Diego School of Medicine headed a team from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in conducting a study of more than 1,600 men, according to Newswise. Their findings appeared in the journal European Urology.

Prostate cancer is among the most common types of cancer men develop. The National Cancer Institute says that an estimated 241,740 men will receive a diagnosis of this type of cancer in 2012. The disease will claim the lives of an estimated 28,170 men. Based on recent statistics, a male U.S. newborn faces a one in six chance of developing prostate cancer.

In its early stages, prostate cancer sometimes has no symptoms. Screening for the disease remains controversial among medical organizations. The two most common types include a digital rectal exam and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If a PSA test shows a higher-than-normal level of PSA in the patient's blood, this might indicate prostate infection, inflammation, enlargement, or cancer. A family member who had low PSA readings for more than a decade suddenly had a level twice as high. The urologist ordered a repeat test in six months. The second level came back even higher. The doctor recommended biopsying the prostate.

This outpatient procedure required about a dozen samples. Pain and bleeding persisted for weeks, and the biopsies were all benign. A man with a negative biopsy typically faces more identical procedures if his PSA number stays higher than normal.

The research team evaluated subjects in the trial by performing biopsies and conducting genetic studies to hunt for germline single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). These are genetic variations in a DNA sequence that have been linked to the risk of developing prostate cancer and other disorders.

The scientists concluded that by considering a man's family history and results of the new test, doctors would have a better idea of the chance of developing prostate cancer than by relying on PSA results and a physical exam. Adding any biopsy and PSA results available to the mix would give an even more accurate picture of risk, they believe.

Around 1 million U.S. men undergo prostate biopsies each year. Of this group, about 30 percent undergo repeat biopsies. The new genetic test to predict the risk of prostate cancer could well become the new diagnostic standard and reduce the number of procedures and tests necessary to protect a man's health.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She has a special interest in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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