Prostate cancer screening: scientists develop an at-home urine test

With the new test, scientists are hoping to make it easier for men to avoid more invasive and time-consuming diagnostic methods such as digital rectal examination.

English doctors have developed a urine test to screen for prostate cancer, which can be done at home. With the new test, the scientists are hoping to make it easier for men to avoid more invasive and time-consuming diagnostic methods such as digital rectal examination.

At a time when the annual Movember awareness-raising campaign on men's health is drawing to a close, researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in England have presented a new test for prostate cancer screening.

Christened "PUR" (Prostate Urine Risk), the test takes the form of an at-home collection kit. Doctors who conducted a study of the test, published in the journal BioTechniques, explain that it allows patients who collect a urine sample at home to evaluate their risk of prostate cancer, which is the most common form of cancer among men.

The PUR test "looks at gene expression in urine samples and provides vital information about whether a cancer is aggressive or 'low risk'. Because the prostate is constantly secreting, the collection of urine from men's first urination of the day means that the biomarker levels from the prostate are much higher and more consistent, so this is a great improvement," explained Dr Jeremy Clark, a researcher at UEA's Norwich Medical School.

Enabling men to avoid unnecessary investigations

To evaluate the effectiveness of the PUR test, the researchers recruited 14 men whom they subjected to a range of medical tests including a digital rectal examination, which is one of the main methods of detecting prostate cancer (along with blood tests, an MRI scan or a biopsy). The participants then returned home, where they performed the PUR test for a second evaluation of their risk of developing prostate cancer.

The scientists then compared the results from the two testing scenarios. "We found that the urine samples taken at home showed the biomarkers for prostate cancer much more clearly than after a rectal examination. And feedback from the participants showed that the at-home test was preferable," pointed out Dr Clark.

The new test may also help evaluate the aggressiveness of prostate cancer and thus help determine up to five years earlier than standard clinical methods if patients will need treatment or not. This "means that a negative test could enable men to only be retested every two to three years, relieving stress to the patient and reducing hospital workload," Dr Clark outlined.

"This is a very exciting development as this test gives us the possibility of differentiating those who do from those who do not have prostate cancer so avoiding putting a lot of men through unnecessary investigations," added the second author of the study, Robert Mills, a consultant surgeon in urology at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The date for the commercial launch of the PUR test has yet to be determined, but the authors of the study are hoping that it will "soon" be available on the market.