A huge leap in diagnosing prostate cancer has been made using new scanning equipment, according to researchers.
Using advanced MRI nearly doubles the number of aggressive tumours that are caught.
And a trial, published in the Lancet, demonstrated that more than a quarter could be spared invasive biopsies, which can lead to severe side-effects.
The NHS is already reviewing whether the scans can be introduced on a system-wide basis.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in British men.
“Taking a random biopsy from the breast would not be accepted, but we accept that in prostate,” said Dr Hashim Ahmed, one of the researchers involved in the study. “This is a significant step-change in the way we diagnose prostate cancer. We have to look at the long-term survival, but in my opinion by improving the detection of important cancers that are currently missed we could see a considerable impact. But that will need to be evaluated in future studies, and we may have to wait 10 to 15 years.”
Angela Culhane, the chief executive at Prostate Cancer UK, was enthusiastic about the new approach, describing it as “the biggest leap forward in prostate cancer diagnosis in decades.”
The study, led by the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit, is already being considered by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
It is thought that introducing the scan will cost £40 million annually.
But each biopsy costs the NHS £450 so reducing the number would deliver savings.
Prof Ros Eeles, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said the study was “very important” and “provides ground breaking data”.
And the chairman of the British Society of Urogenital Radiology, Dr Philip Haslam, asserted that the “findings represent a huge leap forward in prostate cancer diagnosis.”
However, Haslam also warned that the investment required in scanners could be prohibitive.