Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among American men (after skin cancer), and the American Cancer Society estimates that over 174,000 were diagnosed with it this year alone. Despite the prevalence of the disease, getting a prostate exam is something most men would rather avoid—it’s invasive and painful. But new research out of the U.K. might change that. Researchers at the University of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital have developed a simple at-home urine test that can detect prostate cancer even more accurately than existing methods.
“Being able to simply provide a urine sample at home and post a sample off for analysis could really revolutionise diagnosis,” lead researcher Dr. Jeremy Clark said in a blog post.
The researchers are calling it the PUR test (short for Prostate Urine Risk), and it’s designed to capture biomarkers that show if prostate cancer is present in the body. Compared with other common tests, such as blood tests, a rectal examination, MRI scans, and biopsies, PUR is much simpler, less invasive, and causes no pain. Urine tests are currently used to screen for prostate cancer, but always in conjunction with a rectal exam to “boost the levels of prostatic secretions in the urine,” according to the published study.
After testing PUR with 14 participants, however, the researchers found that it delivered samples with stronger biomarkers than the samples taken after a traditional rectal exam. That’s because PUR uses a sample from the first urination of the day, which naturally contains a high level of prostate secretions.
“Because the prostate is constantly secreting,” Clark explained, “the collection of urine from men’s first urination of the day means that the biomarker levels from the prostate are much higher and more consistent.”
The researchers also found that PUR can predict aggressive prostate cancer up to five years earlier than existing tests. With PUR, men could undergo screening less frequently, perhaps every two to three years (the American Cancer Society currently recommends screening every one to two years).
It also means that men who do test positive for cancer can be monitored without subjecting them to invasive biopsies or MRIs. That’s a big plus, and it would go a long way toward reducing the testing workload placed on hospitals, said Clark. At the same time, PUR would hopefully help more men get screened and get treatment.
“It would be much less stressful,” Clark added, “and should result in a lot more patients being tested.”