26 Jun 2019

Urine test shows promise for spotting aggressive cancers

Promising new research finds a chemical signature in urine that can predict the presence and aggressiveness of prostate cancer. However, more tests are needed to compare it against new MRI scans.

New research published today takes us a step closer towards a urine-based test for prostate cancer, as results show that it could help to more easily spot aggressive cancers.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia extracted RNA (a type of genetic material) from the urine of over 500 men who'd just had a digital rectal exam for suspected prostate cancer. They looked for the pattern of activity of 36 genes, which they thought would classify the man into one of four risk groups: no prostate cancer, or low-, medium-, high-risk disease.

They found that the urine test could assign men into the same risk groups as a standard clinical risk score that uses a man's PSA level and the Gleason grade of his cancer. However, the urine test has the advantage of not needing to give the man a biopsy.

The researchers also found that they could predict which men on active surveillance might need treatment to kill or remove the cancer within five years. This suggests that the urine test has the potential to help men and their doctors to decide whether active surveillance really is a suitable option.

"If the benefits of this approach are confirmed in larger trials, this could provide more clarity around whether men are likely to need more urgent treatment or can safely remain under active surveillance," says our Director of Research, Dr David Montgomery.

"However, this study compares the test to older methods for predicting whether a man’s prostate cancer will cause harm. More research now needs to be done to see how accurate this is compared to the newer, non-invasive methods being offered, such as multi-parametric MRI scans."

Overall, these results are very promising, but there's still some way to go before this test can be offered to men.

In their next steps, the researchers will need to optimise the test so that it can be scaled up for a larger clinical trial.

Every new development that takes us a step closer to early and accurate diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer is good news. Help us support research that leads to improvements in prostate cancer diagnosis by donating today.