TWO game-changing Australian trials, which experts hope could lead to better detection and a faster recovery, are giving hope to prostate cancer patients.
In an Australian-first, specialists at Sydney's St Vincent's Private Hospital are trialling a new probe to better detect the spread of prostate cancer.
The international clinical trial of 60 patients from the Netherlands, Germany and Australia is testing a surgery which uses a probe to target lymph nodes affected by cancer around the prostate.
The robot-assisted, radio-guided surgery involves injecting a special radioactive isotope 'tracer' before the surgery, which binds together with cancer cells around the prostate.
The operation uses the new probe - which picks up radioactive signals from the tracer during surgery - to detect where the cancer has spread.
"The surgery then uses this 'Geiger counter' to work out which lymph nodes to remove and make sure we don't miss any," said St Vincent's Private Hospital's urology head Professor Phil Stricker, who has performed the operation on two men so far since June.
Prostate cancer specialist and robotic surgeon, Professor Stricker, said until now there has been no reliable method for accurately detecting lymph nodes affected by prostate cancer.
"With prostate cancer it is not infrequent to find, once surgery starts, that the cancer has jumped from local lymph glands to others anywhere in the body."
He said the new technique allows surgeons to target affected lymph nodes, allowing for only these nodes to be removed, rather than the traditional approach of removing a large number of lymph nodes. It also reduces risk of any affected lymph nodes, often in awkward spots, being missed.
"The hope is it will lead to a thorough removal of the tumour," he added.
Professor Stricker is conducting the DETECT trial with St Vincent's nuclear medicine physician Associate Professor Louise Emmett in collaboratio nwith the Netherlands Cancer Institute, the University Hospital Leiden and the Martini Clinic in Hamburg Germany and Eurorad.
Professor Stricker is also starting work on another trial aimed at changing the way patients are screened for prostate cancer, which he describes as a "game changer".
Three hundred patients are being recruited from around Australia to take part in the multi-centred PRIMARY trial, being headed up by St Vincent's Private Hospital, which is trialling a special type ofPET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan to detect prostate cancer cells.
Patients are injected with a unique chemical which only goes to the prostate cancer cells and sets off a signal. A special X-ray then picks up those signals.
"When men get raised PSA they are usually sent for an MRI before a biopsy," explained Professor Stricker.
He said the PSMA (Prostate Specific Membrane Antigen) PET scan can give a more accurate diagnosis and avoid unecessary biopsies.
"This is a diagnostic tool which will change the way we screen for the disease," he said.
To find out more about the trials, go to www.svphs.org.au