New prostate cancer test prevents 90% of unnecessary prostate biopsies

A new type of MRI scan could help doctors diagnose prostate cancer more accurately and spare thousands of men harm from unnecessary biopsies, according to UCL research.

The INNOVATE trial, funded by Prostate Cancer UK and Movember and supported by the BRC, found that using an innovative type of scan – called VERDICT MRI – alongside standard imaging techniques was significantly better at identifying men who do not have prostate cancer. These men could safely avoid biopsy altogether, reducing the number of unnecessary biopsies by 90%.

The research, supported by the National Cancer Imaging Translational Accelerator (NCITA) and published in Radiology, could benefit thousands of men each year who undergo a prostate biopsy only to be told that they don’t have prostate cancer. Biopsies can cause unintended side effects, such as infections, as well as causing unnecessary anxiety for men.

The new technique can also be carried out using MRI scanners that are already widely used in the UK, meaning it should be straightforward to bring into clinical practice.

Professor Shonit Punwani, lead investigator of the INNOVATE trial, said: “These results show that VERDICT could allow men to know, with confidence, that they do not have prostate cancer and do not need a biopsy.

“This new technique requires no new equipment – it can be been done on MRI scanners already in use and should eventually be possible on all standard 3T scanners, so would be relatively easy to roll out into clinical practice across the UK. It potentially has the added benefit of reducing the cost of diagnosing prostate cancer to the NHS, which is hugely important given the additional strain on the system caused by the pandemic.

“Our next step is to use VERDICT MRI in an even bigger clinical across multiple hospital sites. If successful, the trial should provide the evidence needed to change practice in the NHS in the near future.”

The INNOVATE trial was funded as part of a Prostate Cancer UK and Movember scheme designed to take early-stage research and bring it closer to clinical practice. As a result, the trial has gone from being used in 8 men when this trial was funded to over 300 men in this study alone.

Dr Matthew Hobbs, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “It’s rare to see such a big improvement on current practice, both in terms of accuracy and driving down harms caused by testing.

“These results are a massive leap forward for an exciting new test that could spare thousands of men each year unnecessary anxiety and pain.”

Dr Sarah Hsiao, Director Biomedical Research and Impact at Movember, said: “It’s yet another win for Prostate Cancer UK’s longstanding partnership with Movember, which has seen us fund over 90 grants together since 2012. Today’s exciting results show that we are now seeing those grants make real improvements for men with prostate cancer.”

Professor Mark Emberton, Dean of UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences, said: “This study shows that we are at the beginning of the journey in terms of what MRI can do in order to characterise prostate cancer in a non-invasive manner. It does raise the tantalising prospect of reducing our dependency on prostate biopsy in the future.”