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Rapid prostate cancer test could help reach underserved men

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Researchers from Cornell University have developed a portable, rapid prostate cancer screening kit that could provide early warning to populations with a higher incidence of prostate cancer.

The proof-of-concept test uses a test strip and a small reader to quantify a marker of prostate cancer, called prostate-specific antigen (PSA), from a drop of blood in minutes.

Research author Dr Saurabh Mehta said: “We’ll be able to take a drop of blood in a community setting such as a barbershop and be able to deliver results in 10 to 15 minutes right there, which can indicate when somebody needs to come in for further tests.

“It’s creating that first point of contact that hopefully builds rapport and brings health care services to the people at the point of need,” Mehta said.

The kit comes with a test strip, similar to those found in at-home COVID-19 antigen or pregnancy tests. Users would draw a drop of blood and apply it to the test strip, and in about 15 minutes, two lines appear on the strip.

While a pregnancy test gives a positive or negative result, the cube reader senses the intensity of the test strip lines and then calculates and displays a measurement of PSA concentration in the blood.

African American men frequently do not have access to prostate cancer PSA screening and are diagnosed with more advanced prostate cancer, contributing to disproportionately higher mortality rates.

PSA testing frequency has declined among all US ethnic and racial groups over the last decade, with the rate of decline steeper for African American men, particularly those between 40 and 54 years old.

Close to 43 per cent of African American men aged 41 and older have never had a PSA test, according to one study.

Dr Naomi Elster, head of research at Prostate Cancer Research, said the results from the proof-of-concept study are encouraging, but warned that more work will be needed before it can be rolled out.

“There are lots of reasons people can’t or don’t access healthcare, so it’s really encouraging to see efforts being made to develop technology that can be brought to communities where they are.

“Although we were not involved in this research, we’re encouraged to see scientists specifically developing technology to benefit a community that our current systems don’t serve as they should.

“This was a proof-of-concept study, and more work will be needed before we know if it can be rolled out. However, the results are encouraging enough for this low-cost, community-based screening tool to look like a real possibility.”

Dr Elster said there are limits to the PSA test, but said portable screening tool could easily be adapted to test for newer, better markers as they become available.

“While PSA is the best we have at the minute, it isn’t a perfect test: it misses one in seven aggressive cancers, and three out of four men with high PSA don’t have cancer.

“It doesn’t give enough information about how aggressive a prostate tumour is likely to be, leading to some men not receiving enough treatment, and others having long-term side effects from treatments they may not have needed.

“Huge research efforts are underway to develop better diagnostics, and one of the features that may make this portable screening tool even more valuable in the future is that it looks like it could easily be adapted to test for newer, better markers as they become available.

“It’s critical that these tests are rolled out in the right way. Giving a person a test result without the appropriate support on hand can be harmful, and access to screening is not the only barrier that Black men with prostate cancer face when it comes to getting the high-quality care they deserve.

“Ideally, these tests would form part of something like a navigator programme, which have been successful in other cancers, which help their clients access screening and then stay with them to provide ongoing support and help with navigating healthcare systems.”

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