Prostate tissue samples are taken from over a million men around the world every year - in most cases using 12 large biopsy needles - to check whether they have prostate cancer.
This medical procedure, which was recently described by an American urology professor as 'barbaric'**, shows that 70% of the subjects do not have cancer. The examination is unnecessarily painful and involves risk for these patients, and it is also costly to carry out. A patient-friendly examination, which drastically reduces the need for biopsies, and may even eliminate them altogether, has been developed at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), together with AMC Amsterdam. The results will be presented at the European Association of Urology Congress in Stockholm, on 14 April.
Hundreds of thousands of men die each year from prostate cancer. The standard procedure used worldwide for prostate cancer examinations starts with measurement of the PSA (prostate specific antigen) value in the blood. If this is high, physicians will usually remove samples of prostate tissue through the anus at six to sixteen points for pathological examination. However, 70% of the subjects show no signs of cancer.
So does this mean the high PSA level is a false alarm? Not always: the biopsies may have been taken at just the wrong places. Cancer is later found in 30% of the patients with negative results (no cancer). Among the positive results (patients with signs of cancer), doctors do not know the exact sizes of the tumor. In many cases, operations show that the tumors are so small that surgery was unnecessary. As well as that, the examination leads to inflammations in up to 5% of patients. Plus the fact that each examination costs around USD 2500 to carry out.