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Is Prostate Cancer Screening Still Necessary?

The current test for prostate cancer continues to spark debate. In part 1 of WebMD's 2-part series, there's important prostate cancer information that men should have.

The Future of Prostate Screening continued...

"We are looking at the antibodies or biomarkers produced by the immune system against proteins or protein products made by the cancer cells. We are taking advantage of the body's own immune system activity," says Chinnaiyan.

In studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2005, doctors looked at blood samples taken from 331 prostate cancer patients prior to surgery and from 159 men with no history of cancer.

The result was the identification of a group of 22 biomarkers in the blood of cancer patients that helped identify cancer with good accuracy.

Hall says the study had definite value. "In a controlled setting it was better than PSA or DRE in figuring out who had cancer and who didn't," he says.

Because the test itself is still complicated for the average laboratory, the projected time frame for widespread clinical use is about five years, according to Chinnaiyan.

Closer to coming to fruition is a second advance, also coming from Chinnaiyan's lab in conjunction with researchers at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. In this instance the scientists are looking at the way cancer rearranges genes and causes some specific pairs to merge.

In research published in the journal Science, this molecular signature was found to be present in the majority of prostate cancer tissue samples.

Chinnaiyan estimates this test -- which is similar to the genetic tests now in use for breast cancer -- may be available in less than two years.

Says Chinnaiyan: "This goal here is to eliminate unnecessary biopsies -- and these new tests may help us to do that."

Reviewed on February 20, 2006
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