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Multi-Center Trial Examines New Diagnostic, Screening Tools For Prostate Cancer

Focus on whether urine-based tests can detect genetic abnormalities

BOSTON - It's one of the most significant men's health conundrums: is the PSA blood test a good way for men to gauge their risk for prostate cancer or does it simply lead to unnecessary and costly tests and surgery, often causing men more problems than potential solutions.

Backed with a $3.1 million grant from the National Institutes for Health, physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have embarked on a multi-pronged study to examine whether new urine-based tests that detect genetic abnormalities present in prostate cancer will help doctors more accurately diagnose and screen for prostate cancer. The study will include men who are facing biopsies because of a worrisome PSA test as well as branching out to men being screened for the first time.

"When it comes to PSA and prostate cancer screening, many patients and primary care doctors have thrown the baby out with the bathwater," says Martin Sanda, MD, Director of the Multidisciplinary  Prostate Cancer Program at BIDMC and associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. "We know that PSA screening has flaws, but instead of eschewing prostate cancer screening altogether, our goal is to determine if molecular urine testing can eliminate the pitfalls of PSA screening and thereby allow life-saving benefits of screening to be realized for aggressive variants of prostate cancer without over-treating patients who may best be left untreated."

The "Harvard-Cornell-Michigan Prostate Biomarker Clinical Center," led by Sanda at BIDMC, is a multi-center team effort including Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the University of Michigan, and Cornell-Weill Medical Center in New York, that will evaluate new urine and blood test for prostate cancer in more 2,400 men over the next five years with a goal of improving upon the problems of over-diagnosis and over-treatment.

A focal point of the proposed work involves a community outreach effort led by BIDMC primary care physician J. Jacques Carter, MD, MPH, Medical Director of the DFCI Prostate Cancer Screening and Education Program and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Using the Blum Family Resource Center van of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the study will reach out to men who have yet to receive an initial prostate cancer screening. A key component of this study will be African-American men, who appear to develop prostate cancer more frequently, and who are at increased risk of dying from prostate cancer.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and currently ranks third in National Institutes of Health funding among independent hospitals nationwide. BIDMC is clinically affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and is a research partner of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit www.bidmc.org.