A 15-minute and non-invasive scan could lead to earlier detection of prostate cancer, NIHR-supported research has found.

The PROSTAGRAM trial – led by the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) North West London – is the first clinical trial to assess a rapid MRI scan as a screening test for prostate cancer.

The new procedure could detect aggressive cancers much faster than the current blood tests. The approach is similar to mammograms, which are offered to women to screen for breast cancer.

Professor Hashim Ahmed, trial leader and Chair of Urology & Consultant Urological Surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said “PROSTAGRAM has the potential to form the basis of a new screening programme for prostate cancer and could be a game-changer.

“MRI has the advantage of passing over the many cancers which don’t need to be diagnosed and focussing on the types of cancers which are more likely to shorten life. By finding these aggressive cancers at the earliest opportunity, men have the opportunity to be offered less invasive treatments with fewer side effects.”

Prostate cancer affects one in eight men during their lifetime, with more than 50,000 UK males diagnosed each year.

Over 400 volunteers aged between 50 and 69 years took part in the trial, which involved a physical examination, blood tests and an MRI scan.

Dr David Eldred-Evans, the study’s first author and academic urologist, said “With the support of the CRN North West London, PROSTAGRAM was able to recruit 19 months ahead of schedule. In less than 6 months, the team recruited over 400 men for the study, which is an amazing achievement and led to the research being a success.”

There are three main risk factors for getting prostate cancer – being black, over 50 and having it in the family. Researchers used a WhatsApp message to target hard-to-reach groups, ensuring those taking part were representative of the at-risk groups.

Michael Reid, a participant in the trial, had never considered taking part in research. But he soon got involved after the WhatsApp message caught his attention. “I’ve lost people in my family due to prostate cancer”, he said.

“If you catch it early, you will save lives. So for me to be able to help facilitate the research that could potentially lead to this being adopted is the very reason I’m taking part.”

Volunteers were screened for prostate cancer with both a blood test and a PROSTAGRAM scan. If either test produced suspicious results, the participant would undergo a prostate biopsy to check if there was cancer.

The study found PROSTRAGRAM increased the number of aggressive cancers detected by 50-100%, compared to blood tests. In total 4% of participants had aggressive prostate cancer, of which 65-82% were identified by PROSTAGRAM and only 41% by blood test.

Researchers say a larger study is needed to change national screening guidelines, recruiting thousands of men. The team is currently exploring options to scale-up the PROSTAGRAM trial.

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