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New Blood Test for Prostate Cancer Is 94% Accurate

A person having blood drawn.
Credit: Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash.
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A new blood test developed by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) can detect prostate cancer with 94% accuracy.

No single test for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer affects approximately 1 in 6 men, with 1 person dying every 45 minutes from the disease.

Current screening and diagnostic methods for prostate cancer include the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, among other, more invasive approaches.

PSA is produced by cancerous and noncancerous cells in the prostate, with small amounts circulating in the blood of healthy individuals. If a patient presents with high levels of PSA in the blood, it can be indicative of cancer. However, it might also be indicative of inflammation or enlargement of the prostate, affecting the reliability of the PSA test.

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“There is currently no single test for prostate cancer, but PSA blood tests are among the most used, alongside physical examinations, MRI scans and biopsies,” says Professor Dmitry Pshezhetskiy from UEA’s Norwich Medical School. “Only about a quarter of people who have a prostate biopsy due to an elevated PSA level are found to have prostate cancer.”

Developing a new blood test that has greater accuracy, and is also non-invasive and inexpensive, is a focus for researchers.

Combining the PSA test with epigenetic testing

In Cancer, Pshezhetskiy and colleagues present: the Prostate Screening EpiSwitch (PSE) test, which combines the PSA test with epigenetic testing.

Over recent years, epigenetic testing capabilities have advanced significantly. During this time, it has become clear that aberrant DNA methylation and histone acetylation – examples of epigenetic marks – are associated with prostate cancer onset.

“The purpose of this study was to determine whether combining the Episwitch prostate cancer test with the PSA test will increase its diagnostic accuracy,” the research team write.

Pshezhetskiy and colleagues recruited 147 participants that were either enrolled in the PROSTAGRAM screening pilot study, diagnosed with prostate cancer or a healthy control. They compared the performance of the standard PSA test with the PSE test, discovering that the latter significantly enhances detection accuracy for at-risk men. Overall, the PSE test was 94% accurate.

"When tested in the context of screening a population at risk, the PSE test yields a rapid and minimally invasive prostate cancer diagnosis with impressive performance. This suggests a real benefit for both diagnostic and screening purposes," says Pshezhetskiy.

For PSE to be adopted widely in prostate cancer screening, it will require further validation in a cohort with low cancer prevalence, the researchers say.

Reference: Pchejetski D, Hunter E, Dezfouli M, et al. Circulating chromosome conformation signatures significantly enhance PSA positive predicting value and overall accuracy for prostate cancer detection. Cancers. 2023;15(3). doi:10.3390/cancers15030821.

This article is a rework of a press release issued by the University of East Anglia. Material has been edited for length and content.