Better Testing Is Needed
Two major issues confront prostate cancer testing research: determining if you have prostate cancer and then determining whether your case is aggressive and requires immediate treatment. A number of new and far more accurate prostate cancer tests are right around the corner, if the government supports funding for several critical research programs.
The PSA test cannot actually confirm if you have prostate cancer. It can only signal a prostate abnormality of some kind. PSA found in the blood may be an indicator of an enlarged prostate, a prostate infection, or perhaps cancer.
Currently, the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test is widely considered the best diagnostic tool available for prostate cancer, but a biopsy of the prostate tissue is required to confirm if a person actually does have cancer.
The PSA test, introduced in the mid 80s, spurred an increase in prostate cancer diagnoses peaking at around 1992. The rapid increase in early detection and subsequent drop in the death rate since 1993 could be attributed to widespread use of the PSA test, adding to the growing body of evidence the PSA test saves lives.
The PSA test – particularly PSA velocity (the rate of increase) – is a good indicator of whether an individual’s cancer has returned, but more accurate tests are needed in order to cut down on the number of unnecessary biopsies.
New prostate cancer tests are being developed by using “biomarkers” by utilizing blood or urine tests for detection. Other tests are on the horizon that would act as scanners, searching the body for the presence of prostate cancer.
Not only are researchers discovering new biomarkers that can more accurately indicate prostate cancer; they are also discovering new technology that will make it faster and easier to find and analyze these biomarkers.
The goal of a cancer test is to be both “sensitive” and “specific.” Sensitivity is the ability of a test to accurately detect an existing cancer (if all patients tested are shown to have cancer, then the test represents 100 percent sensitivity.) Specificity is a gauge on how well the cancer test avoids false positives (for example, no false positives would equal 100 percent specificity.)