Whilst available through private oncology for many years, the use of magnetic resonance imaging machines to screen people for cancer varies considerably depending on the type and is often not used to detect common types such as prostate cancer.
However, a study into the use of MRI scans compared to the standard prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test found that the former managed to detect cancers that had the potential to be missed by a PSA test alone.
The Complexities Of Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
Unlike cervical, breast and bowel cancer, prostate cancer is not subject to a national screening programme, due to the controversies surrounding the PSA test.
The biomarker it relies on can sometimes appear at benchmark levels (defined in the study as 3ng/ml) in people who do not have cancer or otherwise have tumours that do not require treatment.
This would lead to a false positive and the potential unnecessary use of biopsies and other invasive treatments as part of further diagnostic investigations
By contrast, there is also the potential for someone with healthy levels of PSA to have cancer, which means it could potentially be missed whilst it is easier and safer to treat.
The REIMAGINE study, funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council, tested 303 men between the ages of 50 and 75 who either have concerns about or symptoms possibly connected to prostate cancer and thus would be eligible for one of several tests suggested by their GP.
The aim is to determine how well MRI scans work at diagnosing prostate cancer compared to a PSA test, and the results were somewhat surprising.
Of the men studied, 48 (16 per cent) had a positive MRI screening, but half of these had a lower PSA level than the benchmark, meaning that they would have cancer but be shown test results that demonstrated the opposite.
The study also found that less than one per cent were over-diagnosed, but wider studies such as the LIMIT trial would need to be taken to confirm this trend.
Prostate cancer is very treatable when caught early and anything that can help people get the treatment they need sooner is essential to save lives.