A urine stick may be a quicker, cheaper way to spot prostate cancer

Pee on a stick, and then learn whether you have prostate cancer.

That's the gist of a new, inexpensive test UC Irvine researchers have developed that would use urine instead of blood to screen for prostate cancer. As 89.3 KPCC/Southern California Public Radio reports, the science team's concept resembles a home pregnancy test, where the patient would pee on a test stick the size of a pencil. The stick itself is coated with plastic film filled with a modified virus that attracts PSMA, a protein found in the urine of people with prostate cancer.

The test would not only indicate the presence of PSMA, but should also reveal how much of the protein is in the urine, an important measurement of how bad the prostate cancer has become. That in itself would be an improvement over the status quo. Doctors typically use a blood test that screens for elevated levels of PSA protein to determine whether a man has prostate cancer. But the test isn't foolproof, because PSA levels can jump for other reasons, and tumors successfully spotted through the diagnostic don't always need immediate treatment.

As the report points out, the urine test stick's potential ability to gauge the seriousness of a particular prostate cancer would also allow for more targeted and accurate treatment. Some patients with prostate tumors can be left alone but end up having invasive treatments, in part because of the lack of diagnostic nuance.

Startups and academics alike are on a quest for a better prostate cancer diagnostic test. Genomic Health ($GHDX) believes it has an edge with its new diagnostic, which launched earlier this month. That test uses a Genomic Prostate Score, which is based on data drawn from a prostate needle biopsy before surgeons take out the prostate. The hope is that this test will boost clinicians' ability to identify patients with very low risk cancer, allowing "watchful waiting" rather than surgery. But there is equal concern that patients would be unwilling to wait rather than immediately act on a cancer in their body, however slow-moving the cancer turns out to be.

And a genomic test isn't cheap, either--Genomic will charge $3,820 for its test. But as the Southern California Public Radio story notes, the prostate cancer urine stick would cost closer to the $10 range.

As far as the UC Irvine team, plans call for testing their diagnostic device next with actual cancer patients and potentially expanding its use for other cancers. Details of their initial work are published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

- here's the Southern California Public Radio story
- check out the journal abstract

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