Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, yet diagnosis of this deadly yet often curable disease is currently difficult. Scientists in the UK however have recently announced an exciting development in the quest to find a simple test for prostate cancer that could save thousands of lives around the world each year.
The prostate is a gland, found in the male reproductive system, which is the site of prostatic fluid production. This fluid is a key component of semen and helps to nourish sperm and aid their development. Although it is not conclusively known why the prostate can become cancerous, a number of factors are implicated, including a genetic disposition, diet and ethnicity (African-American men are at highest risk while Asian men have been shown to be at a much lower risk). By far the biggest risk factor is age. Men under the age of 50 have a very low risk of developing prostate cancer, whereas it is estimated that some 80% of men over the age of 80 will develop the disease.
As with all cancers, early detection is crucial, and if caught soon enough, removal of the prostate will often cure the condition. The problem with prostate cancer however is that because the prostate is an internal organ, invisible from the outside and unable to be easily felt in the body, it is difficult to detect any change in size or shape. It is often not until the tumor has reached such a size as it begins to press on the urethra and interferes with the normal ability to pass urine that the patient may begin to worry enough to see a doctor.
Prostate cancer is often found on examinations including the â€œdigital rectal examinationâ€ or by the PSA screening test â€“ in other words, the doctor will feel inside the anus to detect any changes in the normal state of the prostate. If it feels enlarged, or hard and lumpy, the doctor may recommend further biopsy examination and/or a blood test.
Most men are not routinely screened for prostate cancer, either because there is no free screening program in their area, or because they are too embarrassed to endure the rectal exam. However, Dr. Hayley Whitaker and her team from the Cambridge Research Institute in the UK have identified a potentially unique marker for prostate cancer that can be detected in urine.
Many, but not all, cases of prostate cancer can be attributed to a defective gene, and it was discovered that sufferers with this type of prostate cancer had a reduced level of a protein called MSMB in their urine. Though the research is still in the early stages, this important finding could pave the way for a simple home testing kit to detect levels of MSMB in the urine, and it could cost as little as $9 per test. It is hoped that with further investigation, this test, which would be significantly less embarrassing than the current alternative, could encourage more men to be screened for the disease in the hope that much earlier diagnoses will be made.