Ashok Sehgal considers himself a lucky man. Seven years ago, his wife urged him to get a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, an assessment currently used to screen men for prostate cancer.
When his PSA level came back high, Sehgal’s doctor ordered another test and eventually a biopsy. He was later diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer.
“It saved my life, that (PSA test) saved my life,” Sehgal said. “That’s true!”
According to Prostate Cancer Canada, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men and one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths. But the PSA test has been shrouded in controversy in recent years. That’s because 1 in 5 men who take the test receive a false-positive diagnosis.
“What that means is that a lot of men with elevated PSA (test levels) are getting biopsies, and a biopsy is 12 needles through a walnut-size organ,” said Dr. John Lewis, a prostate cancer researcher with the University of Alberta. “It’s very painful and can come with a big chance of infection.”
It’s why researchers like Lewis have been working to find a more accurate way to detect cancer. Earlier this year, Lewis co-founded a new company in the hopes of bringing a new diagnostic tool to market.
“It’s a technology that detects basically nanometer-sized fragments of cancer cells floating around the blood stream,” Lewis said. “So the test is fully developed and we’ve now validated its performance in 377 patients in Alberta.”
Lewis’ research has not yet been published but it was recently presented at a major international scientific conference.
A research team at the Cleveland Clinic has also been developing a new prostate cancer screening tool. Research recently published online in the journal European Urology, found that compared to the PSA test, the new IsoPSA test was better able to discriminate between prostate cancer and benign conditions and also able identify patients with more aggressive forms of the disease.
“The next step is to go to an independent population of patients to see if we get the same results,” said lead author Dr. Eric Klein, a researcher at the Cleveland Clinic. “If that happens and we’re able to show that the test works, it could be on the market as early as 2017.”