Breakthrough SA test for prostate cancer patients offers new hope

24 Nov 2015
Breakthrough SA test for prostate cancer patients offers new hope

A South Australian medical breakthrough will “revolutionise” treatment for prostate cancer patients, offering new hope for the millions of Australian men living with the killer disease. 

In an SA first, SAHMRI researchers have developed a special compound which can quickly and easily pinpoint where prostate cancer has spread in the body. 

Doctors can then tailor specific cancer therapies to target the secondary cancer in its earliest stages, which will likely save lives. 

Until now, this type of test was not available in the state and many patients were forced to travel interstate. 

The latest research heralds new hope for the more than 17,000 Australian men diagnosed with prostate cancer — the most common cancer in the nation — every year. 

SAHMRI molecular imaging and therapy research unit director Prab Takhar has this week tested 10 patients with the new compound that “finds the cancer which cannot be seen”. 

“We’ve made a compound that once injected in a person will locate any microscopic or clusters of cancer cells in the body if you’ve got reoccurring prostate cancer whether in your lungs, liver or anywhere else,” he said. 

Mr Takhar said the compound is made of two parts — a “beacon” which tells doctors where the cancer is and a “marker” which locates the cancer. 

The compound works by “looking for the prostate cancer cells” in the body and “signalling back” once located. 

“We inject our compound into a person then place them on a PET scanner and then we find the tumour,” he said. 

“(The compound) will light up anything that is related to the prostate cancer that you originally had.” 

Mr Takhar said MRI and CT scans cannot pick up tiny cancer cells which have spread elsewhere in the body even though blood tests show rising PSA levels. 

He said the test would “revolutionise” prostate cancer patient care and give these patients a better life expectancy. 

“We’re working with the patients that have no positive prognosis ... they would have died,” he said. 

“For these patients we can start to look at treatment options when previously there was no way to track their disease.” 

The new test has just become available in South Australia for the first time for about $1200. It is currently not covered by Medicare. 

Similar tests are only available to a handful of patients in Europe, the US and interstate. 

Mr Takhar said he hoped the new test would be available for all prostate cancer patients in the future. 

Dr Peter Sutherland, a senior urologist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, said the test was a game-changer. 

“It’s going to make the treatment of patients with recurrent prostate cancer easier and more successful,” he said. 

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