New diagnostic device that 'smells' prostate cancer in urine could save lives

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A new diagnostic device that can detect prostate cancer in men’s urine, according to researchers in the U.K. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the United States, behind lung cancer. It is also the most common type of cancer in men other than skin cancer.

Key statistics for prostate cancer:

  • According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that in 2015 there were about 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer and about 27,540 deaths from prostate cancer in the United States.
  • About 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, and about 1 in 38 men will die of the disease.
  • About 6 cases in 10 are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, and it is rare before age 40.
  • The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 66.

The study’s findings reveal that the new device works to detect prostate cancer by “smelling” the disease using a gas chromatography sensor system called Odoreader. It was developed by two professors, Chris Probert of the University of Liverpool and Norman Ratcliffe of the University of the West of England Bristol.

The researchers collaborated with the University of the West England, Southmead Hospital and Bristol Royal Infirmary and looked at a total of 155 men who were involved in a urology clinic. Of the 155 men involved in the study, 58 had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, 24 with bladder cancer, and 73 with hematuria (or blood in the urine). The researchers collected urine samples and inserted them into the Odoreader. The urine samples were then measured using algorithms developed by the researchers. They found that Odoreader was able to successfully identify patterns of volatile compounds from urine samples, and detect those that indicate cancer.

“There is currently no accurate test for prostate cancer, the vagaries of the PSA test indicators can sometimes result in unnecessary biopsies, resulting in psychological toll, risk of infection from the procedure and even sometimes missing cancer cases,” professor Norman Ratcliffe of the University of the West of England said in a press release. “Our aim is to create a test that avoids this procedure at initial diagnosis by detecting cancer in a non-invasive way by smelling the disease in men's urine.”

Currently, the most widely used preliminary method used to screen for prostate cancer prior to a prostate biopsy is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. However, the PSA test is not specific for prostate cancer and may also detect other prostate conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (an enlarged prostate). Having abnormal PSA results that fluctuate can sometimes lead to unnecessary prostate biopsies.

The new study’s findings could pave the pathway for a new milestone in the detection of prostate cancer, making invasive diagnostic procedures less necessary and potentially saving the lives of many men who fight the disease.