Better diagnosis?

In Faster diagnosis? I mentioned developments in MRI technology (which could also lead to better diagnosis). Scientists at Dundee University have been working on developments in ultrasound – a technique called shear wave elastography. This relies on the fact that cancerous tissue is stiffer than non-cancerous tissue. This can be detected on an ultrasound scan and so cancerous tissue can be pinpointed more accurately. The information obtained allows a better diagnosis which in turn leads to better treatment. In addition it should be cheaper than an MRI scan and so be more widely available.

This is encouraging but there is still the question of what makes anyone seek a scan in the first place? Prostate cancer is a sneaky little beggar which creeps up on you unannounced. By the time you notice any symptoms it is well entrenched (unless the symptoms are caused by something else, which is quite possible). Either you notice a pee-issue (or one of the other symptoms) or a raised (or rising) PSA turns up in a regular check up/blood test and you realise there might be a problem. This of course triggers various investigations and then a diagnosis. But it all relies on either you discussing one of the symptoms with your doctor or on the unwanted number turning up in a blood test.

What would be good is if this ultrasound technology turned out to be a viable candidate for a screening programme for at risk individuals (i.e. men) comparable to the breast screening programme for women? This aims to find breast cancers early using a mammogram and, in England, is offered every three years for women aged between 50 and 70 years old. Currently there is no equivalent for prostate cancer. Early days, but fingers crossed.


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