Prostate Cancer: More Effective Test for Outlook

Prostate Cancer: More Effective Test for Outlook

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Breakthrough in prostate cancer diagnosis?

A new type of test that uses complex sugars appears to be able to identify prostate cancer earlier and with greater accuracy. This could lead to an improvement in the survival rate for prostate cancer.

A recent study by the University of Birmingham tested a test that uses sugar to diagnose prostate cancer early. The results of the research work were published in the English-language journal "Advanced Functional Materials".

Sugar to diagnose cancer?

The new test works by detecting sugar (so-called glycans) in the blood. These sugars are bound to protein molecules, which are also called PSA. It is already known that PSA changes when cancer is present in the body. Certain types of glycans are associated with various types of cancer, but so far there has been no technology to reliably, promptly and sufficiently specifically detect glycans, the researchers report.

New test effectively detects glycans

The team from the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemical Engineering has now developed a technique that can detect cancer-related glycans with unprecedented accuracy. This new technology has already been patented.

Only four of the 56 glycans are associated with prostate cancer

What is particularly interesting about the new test is the ability to localize glycans with a very high specificity. 56 different sugars can be bound to a PSA molecule, but only four of them are associated with prostate cancer, the researchers report. The new test enables these four sugars to be identified with certainty. The number of glycans identified in this way shows not only whether cancer is present, but also how aggressive or advanced the cancer is.

How common are incorrect results in prostate cancer tests?

A new test for prostate cancer is urgently needed as the current tests are only able to provide an indication of an elevated PSA level in blood samples. However, this can lead to false positive results in about 50 percent of cases. This is because a man's PSA can increase for a number of reasons. The research group explains, however, that these reasons are not necessarily related to cancer. In addition, about 25 percent of men with prostate cancer do not have an elevated PSA level. The test cannot diagnose the disease in these people.

Wrong results lead to unnecessary investigations

Many men who undergo the PSA test get a wrong diagnosis, which means that they are sent for further, more invasive tests, which can be very stressful for affected men and lead to high healthcare costs.

Glycans enable a more precise diagnosis

It is equally worrying that many men suffering from prostate cancer have low PSA levels, which are not easy to determine in tests. By measuring the glycans, however, much more precise diagnoses can be made. Not only can cancer be recognized at an earlier stage, but also how aggressive the cancer is.

Can the new technology also detect ovarian cancer?

The team hopes to use the technology to diagnose other cancers and has already started developing an ovarian cancer test. Ovarian cancer is typically diagnosed at a very late stage, which means that the treatment options are often very limited and the survival rate is therefore very low, the researchers explain.

Conclusion of the study

An early and accurate diagnosis of prostate cancer is critical to ensure that the disease can be successfully treated. The new test enables an earlier diagnosis and helps to assess how aggressive prostate cancer is. This also allows conclusions to be drawn as to which people urgently need treatment and for whom cancer is less aggressive, so that only one observation may be necessary, the researchers report. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Stefano Tommasone, Yazmin K. Tagger, Paula M. Mendes: Targeting Oligosaccharides and Glycoconjugates Using Superselective Binding Scaffolds, in Advanced Functional Materials (published May 28, 2020), Advanced Functional Materials

Video: What is Prostate Cancer? Is PSA Testing Reliable? (October 2022).