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NEW BLOOD TEST DETECTS SPREAD OF PROSTATE CANCER

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Thousands of patients who face removal of their prostate gland may eventually be able to avoid surgery, thanks to an experimental blood test that can give clues to whether cancer cells have escaped from the gland, researchers say.

The test checks for the presence of prostate cells in the blood, where they are not normally found.Now, doctors surgically remove the prostate if they think the cancer is confined to the gland.

But if the blood test shows the cancer may have escaped the prostate, a patient and his doctor may decide to skip the operation and try other treatment such as radiation, researchers said.

More than 100,000 prostate removals will be done this year, and routine use of the blood test might have reduced that number by 25,000 to 35,000, estimated Dr. Carl Olsson, a member of the team that developed the test.

Olsson is chairman of the urology department at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons.

He and colleagues from Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center reported the study in the June issue of the journal Urology.

Dr. Patrick Walsh, a prostate cancer expert at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, said the new work and a similar test being studied elsewhere are interesting, but "it's premature to go out and treat a patient based solely on these tests."

An estimated 200,000 cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, with 38,000 deaths.

Olsson said other techniques now in use can identify when prostate cancer has spread to lymph nodes or bones.

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Additional Information

Key findings of new procedure

- A blood test identified 25 of 30 patients in whom later surgery found that cancer had escaped the prostate.

- No positive results were found in 65 people without prostate cancer.