May 17, 2005
More Accurate Prostate Cancer Test Demonstrated

Johns Hopkins University scientists led by urology professor Robert H. Getzenberg have developed a more accurate test for prostate cancer using a protein called Early Prostate Cancer Antigen (EPCA).

In the first clinical study of a new blood protein associated with prostate cancer, researchers have found that the marker, called EPCA or early prostate cancer antigen, can successfully detect prostate cancer in its earliest stages.

Greater sensitivity of cancer tests allows for earlier diagnosis and treatment and therefore better outcomes. Also, greater test sensitivity enables more rapid testing of anti-cancer drugs and of dietary and other interventions designed to prevent cancer in the first place.

The new test is much more accurate than the existing Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test.

The researchers found that EPCA levels were high in 11 of 12 prostate cancer patients (92 percent) and low in all the healthy individuals. Only two bladder cancer patients and none of the other patients had elevated EPCA levels, suggesting that for this study, the test was correct 94 percent of the time. In comparison, only one-quarter of patients who undergo biopsies because they have elevated PSA values are actually positive for prostate cancer, while as many as 15 percent of those with low PSA values were found to have prostate cancer as detected by biopsy, according to Getzenberg.

Larger clinical trials are under way to further refine the EPCA test, to make it more sensitive so it can pick up even the smallest traces of the marker and to verify its usefulness for detecting prostate cancer in a larger sample of patients, Getzenberg said.

Earlier cancer diagnosis will produce an unintended and yet ultimately beneficial consequence: The total number of people walking around with known cancer will rise dramatically. Therefore more people will feel the urgent need to support cancer research. A person who gets a cancer diagnosis and is told they have 6 months to live has little incentive to support cancer research and little time in which to do so. But a person who gets a cancer diagnosis 5 or 10 years before the cancer is going to reach the terminal stage has a lot of time and energy to devote to supporting cancer research.

This same phenomenon of increasingly earlier diagnosis years before a disease kills its sufferers is being repeated across many other types of diseases. Scanning technologies such as MRI, new blood tests, saliva tests, and other tests are leading to increasingly earlier diagnoses. In some cases this allows earlier and more successful treatment. But for incurable disorders this trend is also producing a growing body of people who now live for years knowing they have a fatal disease. This focuses more minds in support of developing better treatments.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 May 17 07:55 AM  Biotech Cancer

Mark said at May 17, 2005 7:58 AM:

One vital piece of information was left out.

Does this mean that I won't have to have a doctor stick a finger up my butt when I'm 45?

Randall Parker said at May 17, 2005 8:10 AM:


Yes, I think that can now be avoided. So this is good news.

jeff said at May 17, 2005 8:27 AM:

Too small a sample size to be newsworthy.

Braddock said at May 17, 2005 9:07 AM:

The PSA is falling out of favor for men over 65. Too many false positives and unnecessary procedures. This one sounds better. A man over 65 with a low grade prostate cancer will probably die of something else eventually.

If this screening test is superior to the PSA it will obviously prevent unnecessary biopsies. Biopsies would still be done to determine the tumor grade. The finger up the butt will probably continue to be standard procedure if only to detect colon cancer. Other prostate conditions also require digital penetration.

Mark said at May 17, 2005 2:38 PM:

The finger up the butt will probably continue to be standard procedure if only to detect colon cancer. Other prostate conditions also require digital penetration.

Rats, I knew this was too good to be true. "Digital penetration" sounds like it would be a great thing in some other context.

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