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UK scientists develop new test for prostate cancer

UK scientists develop new test for prostate cancer More accurate and cheaper than existing methods

A team of UK scientists has developed a new method to test for the presence of prostate cancer which is twice as accurate as the existing method.

The current screening for prostate cancer involves taking a blood sample which is tested for the level of the protein prostate specific antigen (PSA), which is the most abundant protein in semen.

Men with prostate cancer typically have higher levels of PSA. But other factors can result in high PSA, such as infection or a non-cancerous tumour. In fact two out of three men with raised PSA levels do NOT have prostate cancer.

Crucially, the current test can only detect the possible existence of prostate cancer - it cannot be used to predict the possibility of the man developing the disease in the future.

About the new test

The team, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute and The Institute of Cancer Research, looked at the second most common protein in semen, microseminoprotein-beta (MSMB).

Levels of this protein are in fact reduced in cases of prostate cancer. This reduction is linked to a genetic "marker" which is a good predictor for prostate cancer risk. Importantly, MSMB is secreted into the urine from semen, so a simple urine test can be used to measure its level.

Furthermore, MSMB levels do not seem to be affected by an enlarged prostate or by hormone levels - both major drawbacks with the current test.

Lead author Dr Hayley Whitaker said: "We looked in tissue and urine from over 350 men with and without prostate cancer to find out how much MSMB they had. We then looked to see who had the genetic change. It was really exciting to find out that the genetic change and the amount of protein were linked."

Co-author Professor Rosalind Eeles explained: "Our studies have shown that men with a small change in their MSMB gene are at a higher risk of prostate cancer, and so we are very excited that there may be a simple test for this genetic change."

Additional work is now required to develop the test into a viable testing kit. The researchers suggest that the price could be as low as £5 or £6 per test - a third less than the current PSA test.

A new reliable and cost effective screening test could lead to the introduction of a national screening program for prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer causes 10,000 deaths annually in the UK, so a wider screening program could save many lives.

The research is published in PLoS ONE.

This article was published on Thu 14 October 2010

Image © Alexander Raths -

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