A simple urine test is being developed that would revolutionize the treatment of prostate cancer by differentiating between the benign and aggressive forms of the disease.
While prostate cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in men, the real challenge for treatment tends to lie in measuring the progress of the disease. A person can live a long time with benign prostate cancer, but the aggressive kind of tumor grows much more quickly and requires urgent treatment. The current method for distinguishing between the two can involve several rounds of testing, including an invasive and painful biopsy.
The urine test, which will not be ready for at least another three to five years, would be an easy and inexpensive way to determine which type of cancer is present, researchers report in Nature [subscription required]. Research for the test began when doctors found that men with an aggressive form of prostate cancer carry elevated levels of a particular molecule in their urine [The Guardian].
The researchers pinpointed about 10 molecules–or metabolites–that were more often present in samples taken from patients with advanced cancer. One metabolite in particular, sarcosine, was often found at elevated levels in samples taken from patients with advanced cancer, or cancer that had spread, but not at all in samples taken from healthy tissue. In fact, sarcosine was a better indicator of advancing disease than the traditional marker, a protein called prostate specific antigen [BBC].
The new research has potential implications for treatment of other cancers as well. Scientists believe that cancer cells need the molecule [sarcosine] to spread around the body, so drugs that stop it working could effectively contain cancers and stop them spreading to other organs…. “This is the molecule that the cancer cells use when they want to spread. If it turns out to be involved in metastasis in other cancers, then this discovery will be huge,” said Christopher Beecher, a co-author on the study [The Guardian].
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