This new method may detect prostate cancer better

In a new study, researchers have developed a hybrid camera that can get a close look at the prostate. It will be critical for detecting cancer.

The research was conducted by a team from Stanford University.

Traditionally, prostate cancer is detected via prostate cancer-associated blood biomarkers, such as prostate-specific antigen (PSA).

Doctors often also use ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for physical changes in prostate tissue.

Newer techniques that harness positron emission tomography (PET) scans can even capture molecular detail, but those tactics are relatively more expensive and use radiation.

The team’s new technology, dubbed the transrectal ultrasound and photoacoustic device, or TRUSPA, marries ultrasound and photoacoustic imaging techniques to simultaneously produce a picture showing the anatomy of the prostate, functional details about the gland and molecular information that can help flag cancerous tissue.

Typically, if a biomarker such as PSA is elevated in a patient’s blood, doctors then turn to a combination of ultrasound and biopsy, during which they use a needle to take about 20 samples from different regions of the prostate.

The technique is rooted in a poke-and-hope theory, as in, hopefully you’re sampling the part of the prostate that contains the cancer tissue. But it’s not guaranteed.

TRUSPA takes a different approach, which incorporates an imaging agent that cancer cells readily take up—more so than regular tissue.

Then, through photoacoustic molecular imaging (which monitors the absorption of light waves to help characterize tissue type) doctors can see where the cancer cells are located in the prostate.

The presence of the imaging agent in tumor tissue changes the way that the light gets absorbed and ultrasound waves are sent back to the device, making it into a sort of flag for cancerous tissue.

In the pilot study, the scientists used the device in 20 people who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, looking to see whether or not their device could likewise detect the disease.

In one patient, they were even able to differentiate between malignant and non-malignant cancer tissue, which was later confirmed upon further molecular analysis when the diseased prostate was removed from the patient.

The finding shows clear evidence that the concept and technology can be made to work in humans.

The team plans to test the imaging system much more before we conclude that TRUSPA can make these sorts of differentiations broadly.

One author of the study is professor and chair of radiology Sanjiv “Sam” Gambhir, MD, Ph.D.

The study is published in Science Translational Medicine.

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