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The tumour hunters: Precision targeting for prostate cancer

UCL researchers are transforming the treatment and diagnosis of prostate cancer. SmartTarget helps surgeons to better pinpoint prostate cancer in biopsies while MRI scanning, an alternative diagnosis method, is doubling cancer detection rates.

The tumour hunters: Precision targeting for prostate cancer

Not everyone with suspected prostate cancer needs to have a painful biopsy anymore, thanks to new clinical guidelines backed up by life-saving UCL research.

And a team of doctors and engineers have further reduced the number of biopsies needed with a revolutionary technology that guides surgeons performing biopsies to improve prostate cancer detection. 

One of the most common cancers, close to one in ten men could expect to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
For the last 50 years, men have been assessed for the cancer through random biopsy deployed via the rectum, which is painful, unreliable and resulting in significant overdiagnosis and expenditure. 

UCL’s research led by Professor Mark Emberton, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences, and Professor Caroline Moore (UCL Division of Surgery & Interventional Science) demonstrated that the use of multi-parametric MRI (mpMRI) as an alternative method is much more effective and significantly cuts NHS costs.

The improvement is due to fewer unnecessary needles and biopsies, double detection rate of clinically important disease and less harm to patients.

The UK’s medical regulator, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, now recommends mpMRI as a first line investigation for men suspected of having clinically localised prostate cancer. 

Nearly one million prostate biopsies done each year in the EU alone. It is estimated that around 250,000 men could avoid a biopsy as a result of mpMRI and approximately 200,000 important cancers would have been missed or misclassified without it.

When a biopsy is still needed to confirm the presence of cancer, a new technology, SmartTarget, is more clearly showing surgeons the way.

Developed by UCL Engineering and UCL Medical Sciences, SmartTarget combines MRI scans with ultrasound images to better pinpoint prostate cancer and provide surgeons with a precise location to biopsy.

Chief Scientific Officer and co-inventor of the SmartTarget software, Dr Dean Barratt (UCL Engineering) commented:

The SmartTarget software is the culmination of 10 years’ research, and incorporates some of the most advanced technology available in any commercial medical image fusion system. We look forward to continuing to develop the software for new medical applications.

Mark and Caroline are continuing to transform the care pathway for prostate cancer, as they are now leading a trial to see if MRI scanning could be used as a routine test to screen for prostate cancer, to further increase the number of cases that are picked up early enough for effective treatment.

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