Prostate cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer. Roughly one in eight British men will develop the disease at some point in their lives, but survival rates are extremely good if it’s caught early enough.
Almost 42,000 men are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every year, and it accounts for one in four of all male cancers. More than half of all diagnoses of prostate cancer in the UK are in men over the age of 701, and constant developments in the knowledge and treatment of the disease mean survival rates are improving.
Prostate mapping is the latest development in the fight against this disease. It’s a new kind of test, and this is vital because prostate cancer often has no symptoms, meaning testing for prostate cancer is the only reliable way of detecting it in its early stages.
The first step in testing for prostate cancer is a PSA test. This is a blood test that checks for an antigen produced by your prostate. Every man has a little of this antigen in his blood, and this increases as you get older. Doctors know what is normal for a man of your age, and elevated readings indicate you may have something wrong with your prostate – but not necessarily cancer.
To help decide if you need further tests, your GP will look at your risk factors (including age and ethnicity) and perform a brief physical examination. If you do need further tests, you’ll be referred for a biopsy.
What happens at the moment?
Traditional prostate biopsies are guided by ultrasound, with a probe that’s inserted in your back passage. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image of your prostate, and a number of samples are taken using a long needle. It works well enough, but can give inaccurate results up to 20% of the time – missing cancer in those who have it, or failing to accurately report the aggressiveness.
How does prostate mapping help?
Prostate mapping is a new type of biopsy, developed by leading consultants in Britain. It uses MRI imaging techniques that give doctors a much more detailed image of your prostate. They then take biopsies using a template, taking many more samples than in a typical biopsy. The results from prostate mapping have been much more accurate at identifying and assessing cancer than the ultrasound method.
A more accurate diagnosis means it’s possible to make a better-informed choice of treatment, and therefore provides a better chance of recovery.
How else is it different?
A traditional, ultrasound-based biopsy is done while you’re awake, with local anaesthetic to numb the area. Prostate mapping is done under general anaesthetic because there are many more samples taken – up to 50, compared to 8-12 done in a normal biopsy.
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