Men could soon be offered a new one-off prostate cancer test, which could detect whether they are likely to develop a dangerous form of the disease, scientists have revealed.
Experts say men could be offered one scan between the age of 55 and 60 and be given “peace of mind” for the rest of their life.
The 10-minute scan, which could be potentially rolled out in supermarkets and shopping centres, detects dangerous cancers years before they cause any harm while ignoring growths that don’t pose a threat.
A government-funded trial is due to begin this summer, but if successful the new MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technique would be the first time a national screening programme for prostate cancer has been offered on the NHS.
It has been likened to a mammogram, which is offered to women every three years from 50 to 71 to check for signs of breast cancer.
Some 450 men have already had the potentially lifesaving MRI scan as part of a clinical trial, with 350 more due later this year.
If the two trials prove successful, researchers expect the checks to be offered from mobile scanners across England.
Unlike blood tests, MRI scans appear to be more effective at distinguishing between cancers that are likely to grow and spread and benign tumours that could potentially be left untreated.
Currently, screening for prostate cancer is not recommended in the UK because the available tests, which look for markers in the blood, are too unreliable.
The trial of the new test follows a change in guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) last month, which suggested MRI scans should be the first line test for diagnosis of the disease.
“I think that could revolutionise the way that we diagnose disease and hopefully identify men who would be better treated than not treated,” Prof Mark Emberton, the dean of medical sciences at University College London told Cheltenham Science Festival.
“You end up with a lot of men being diagnosed with cancer that isn’t destined to kill them,” said Emberton. “What’s beautiful about MRI is it overlooks the many, many cancers which don’t need to be diagnosed.”
Another reason prostate cancer is hard to screen for is that it is extremely slow growing.
Many men will develop it later life but will often die of something else before the cancer becomes relevant.
For that reason experts believe that the new test could mean many men will only need to be screened once.
“If your prostate comes back looking very clean at 55, 60 - I don’t know what age we’ll choose yet — you’re probably very unlikely to develop prostate cancer,” Professor Emberton explained.
“We think that could revolutionise the way that we diagnose disease and hopefully identify men who would be better treated than not treated.”
More than 11,500 men die from prostate cancer in the UK each year, which makes it a bigger killer than breast cancer.
Prostate Cancer UK's new campaign 'Men, we are with you', recently launched in a bid to highlight the charity's belief that all men are worth saving from prostate cancer.
With one man dying from prostate cancer every 45 minutes, the campaign aims to make people think about the men in their life, what they love about them and what they would miss if they lost them to prostate cancer.
Commenting on the potential new MRI test Karen Stalbow, from Prostate Cancer UK said: “This trial could provide an exciting step towards our ambition for a national screening programme that enables men to get the early prostate cancer diagnosis that can save more lives.
“If the results are positive, then MRI scanning could offer a non-invasive first stage of prostate cancer diagnosis in the future.