While many of the 180,000 American men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year will find they have a highly treatable, low-risk form of the disease that is simply not always the case. Some men will find their prostate cancer is more aggressive or has advanced to the point that immediate intervention is required. Surgical procedures, radiation and chemotherapy may all provide help in these cases, but they are no guarantee aggressive cancers won’t make a return. Gaining a diagnostic edge on recurrences is critical for improving outcomes for patients. Researchers believe a new PET scan may give them just the edge for earlier intervention they need.
The new PET scan uses a special radioactive tracer known as C-11. This tracer is absorbed by prostate cancer cells after it is injected into the body. When the scan is performed, cells that absorb the tracer “light up.” This enables clinicians to more readily see areas where prostate cancer has returned or spread. Other tests, such as bone scans and MRIs, are also useful in detecting recurrences, but they cannot spot tumors in their early stages. This particular fact may give the PET scan the advantage in helping men and their doctors more readily treat recurrences should they arise.
When recurring cancers are caught early, the chances of survival remain higher. So do the options for treatment. Local area cancers, for example, can often be successfully treated through radiation. Surgery may also be indicated. In some cases, other measures, such as hormonal ablation might be required.
While the new PET scan isn’t widely available just yet, it is showing a great deal of promise in helping doctors detect prostate cancer recurrences earlier. Men who have undergone treatment for prostate cancer are urged to work closely with their doctors to monitor for recurrences. The first line of defense in this case remains the prostate-specific antigen test, which can send up a red flag should possible cancer activity return. High PSA levels may indicate the need for follow up exams, such as MRI or PET scans.
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