For men who undergo a biopsy for a prostate tumor, the big question has been whether to wait and see if the cancer grows slowly, or to treat it immediately with a regimen that could cause incontinence or impotence.
What made the decision difficult is that there's been no good way to tell which kind of cancer a man might have - slow-growing or aggressive - but a new gene-analysis test introduced this week may make the decision clearer.
The test, called Oncotype DX Prostate Cancer Test and developed by Genomic Health, could save men from unnecessary operations on slow-growing tumors that will never harm them. It is the second such test introduced in the past year; both are among a dozen coming to market, according to the New York Times.
The test analyzes the genes in a biopsy sample and gives a score for tumor aggressiveness, similar to tests used now for certain breast and colon cancers, the Associated Press reported.
This offers men and their doctors important information for deciding on treatment, said Peter Carroll, M.D., chairman of urology at the University of California, San Francisco, who led a study of the new gene test's effectiveness. Currently, men have only the unreliable PSA test, which measures the level of a prostate protein in the bloodstream but doesn't indicate the type of tumor the patient has.
Initial study results suggest the test could triple the number of men who could safely monitor their tumors instead of undergoing risky surgery and radiation to eradicate them. About 240,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. annually.
Experts caution, however, that it's still too early to tell how accurate the test really is, or whether it will persuade more men to take a wait-and-see attitude toward treatment.
Even with the test, there is still uncertainty, and many men may not want to take any chance that a tumor could quickly turn fatal.
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