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Using health economics to find a better way to screen for prostate cancer

Nearly 20 per cent of Canadian men screened for prostate cancer may undergo unnecessary surgical biopsy, resulting in avoidable health complications, anxiety, and excess cost to the health care system. This health burden arises because the current blood test used to detect prostate cancer has a high rate of false positives.

A new project led by CHÉOS Scientist Dr. Annalijn Conklin looks to change the way we diagnose and treat prostate cancer by analyzing the cost-effectiveness of a new testing method.

The current practice for early detection of prostate cancer in BC is a rectal exam combined with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, offered to men between 50 and 70 years of age.

If the concentration of PSA – released when there are a large number of abnormal cells in the prostate – is high enough, the patient will be sent for a surgical biopsy. However, around 60 per cent of men who have abnormal PSA and undergo biopsy do not have prostate cancer. On top of this, many patients who do have prostate cancer detected during biopsy have a benign or non-aggressive tumour. This results in an increased and unnecessary burden on physicians, patients, and society at large.

A new diagnostic blood test, developed by Dr. Karla Williams, one of the project’s co-investigators, could improve decision-making around which patients require biopsy. The test, which detects a unique carbohydrate in the blood that is associated with prostate cancer, is highly specific, meaning that it is very good at detecting who does not have the disease (low false positive rate).

Read the full story on the CHEOS website