Chris Kitcher can vividly recall the moment that a consultant radiologist showed him a scan image of the tumours in his prostate gland.

‘There were just two tiny, dark spots — like worm bites in an apple,’ says Chris, 69.

It can also help differentiate between cancers that require treatment and slow-growing ‘p*ssycat’ tumours that can be safely left where they are, sparing men side-effects such as impotence and incontinence from treatments they don’t need.

But experts fear many men will miss out on this technology because of a shortage of equipment and staff qualified to use it.

At the time, Chris had no idea he was one of the lucky ones: his local hospital in Brighton offered the scan routinely to men suspected of having prostate cancer.

Chris’s diagnosis came about after he began feeling unusually tired, often falling asleep in the early evening.

This prompted his wife to arrange an appointment with his GP, when the doctor suggested lightly: ‘While you’re here, let’s get you a blood test for your prostate.’

The results showed raised levels of PSA (prostate-specific antigen), a possible sign of cancer.

Chris’s diagnosis came about after he began feeling unusually tired, often falling asleep in the early evening.

This prompted his wife to arrange an appointment with his GP, when the doctor suggested lightly: ‘While you’re here, let’s get you a blood test for your prostate.’

The results showed raised levels of PSA (prostate-specific antigen), a possible sign of cancer.

The grandfather of seven, who has written bestselling textbooks on testing electronic devices, was then referred for an MRI scan.

Prostate cancer, which claims the lives of 11,000 British men every year, is difficult to diagnose.

This is partly because a raised PSA may also reflect a benign condition, such as an enlarged prostate, or even occur transiently after cycling.

Then, if the man is referred for a biopsy, the most widely used diagnostic test is with TRUS (Trans-Rectal UltraSound), a problematic technique.

Carried out under local anaesthetic and lasting around 20 minutes, it involves inserting an ultrasound-guided probe into the rectum and then putting up to 12 fine needles into the prostate, each of which removes a tissue sample from the walnut-sized gland.

Unlike a biopsy for suspected chest cancer, where, thanks to the mammogram or ultrasound scan, the technician knows exactly which spots of tissue are suspect, TRUS is carried out ‘blind’.

Samples are taken from 12 pre-determined points on a circle, ‘so the tissue is taken from wherever the needles enter the prostate gland’, says Dr Jonathan Richenberg, a consultant uro-radiologist at the Royal Sussex County Hospitals NHS Trust in Brighton, where Chris was treated last summer.

‘If a biopsy on the chest was carried out on the off-chance that the cancer would lie on one of 12 spots on the chest, women would say it was barbaric lunacy — and rightly so,’ says Dr Richenberg.

Of the 100,000 or so men who have such prostate biopsies every year, two out of three are later found to have no cancer at all, or a tumour that is so slow-growing it is unlikely to pose a health threat.

At the same time, the test gives false reassurance to one in four men who are later found to have life-threatening prostate cancer, according to Prostate Cancer UK.

What’s more, men who have the procedure face a 2-3 per cent risk of developing serious, potentially fatal infections, including sepsis.

It is this level of uncertainty that the new type of MRI scan looks set to remove. By ruling out cancer, it could allow some men to avoid biopsy altogether.

The mpMRI scan is an enhanced version of standard MRI, with two new functions.

The first, known as fusion-weighted imaging, identifies dense spots of water molecules that are known to collect around cancerous tissue.

A second function enables radiologists to pick up ‘chaotic’ networks of tiny blood vessels, also known to form around tumours.

In the recent study, 576 men with suspected prostate cancer had the scan and were then given two types of biopsy: first TRUS, and then a Template Prostate Mapping (TPM) biopsy, a newer and more accurate diagnostic test carried out under general anaesthetic.

With the help of conventional MRI scans (rather than ultrasound), this method involves taking up to 50 tissue samples through needles inserted via the perineum.

As expected, these biopsies revealed that fewer than half the men had a life-threatening cancer.

Chris’s diagnosis came about after he began feeling unusually tired, often falling asleep in the early evening.

This prompted his wife to arrange an appointment with his GP, when the doctor suggested lightly: ‘While you’re here, let’s get you a blood test for your prostate.’

The results showed raised levels of PSA (prostate-specific antigen), a possible sign of cancer.

The grandfather of seven, who has written bestselling textbooks on testing electronic devices, was then referred for an MRI scan.

Prostate cancer, which claims the lives of 11,000 British men every year, is difficult to diagnose.

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