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UK researchers develop technology to highlight cancer area for biopsies

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A research team at University College London (UCL) has developed a new technology that could pinpoint the potential cancer area in the prostate gland, allowing better biopsies and disease detection.

Commonly, prostate cancer diagnosis involves a biopsy without knowing the exact location of a tumour in the organ. This leads to the missed diagnosis of nearly 50% of cancer cases.

MRI-guided tests were later introduced to inform surgeons on the tumour location via MRI scans prior to a biopsy test. MRI-targeted biopsies are found to have increased detection rates from 50% to around 90% over the last five years.

The new technology, deployed through the SmartTarget system, creates a 3D model of the prostate and cancer from MRI scans of each patient by leveraging image processing and machine learning algorithms.

While performing a biopsy, the 3D model can be integrated with ultrasound images to pinpoint the area of concern in order to guide surgeons in detecting the cancer quickly.

The researchers said that the technology has enabled surgeons to identify clinically relevant cancers that were missed with existing visual detection techniques. They believe that a combination of both techniques would be the best approach.

During a study, the team performed two biopsies in 129 people with suspected prostate cancer using the SmartTarget system and visual MRI scan review.

The combination of the two methods identified 93 clinically significant prostate cancers, while each of them detected 80 and missed 13 that the other technique picked up.

UCL Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering researcher Dr Dean Barratt said: “We developed the SmartTarget system to equip surgeons with vital information about the size, shape and location of prostate tumours during a biopsy that is otherwise invisible on ultrasound images.

“The software provides them with a clear target. As MRI-targeted biopsies require a very high degree of expertise and experience, we hope that the imagery displayed by SmartTarget will help to bring high accuracy prostate cancer diagnosis to a much wider range of patients and hospitals.”

The team hopes that the new techniques can potentially decrease the number of biopsies as well as unnecessary surgeries due to over diagnosis of less harmful cancers.

Findings from the research have been published in European Urology.

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