SINGAPORE: A more accurate imaging technique, known as F-Fluorocholine PET/CT, is now available to help doctors detect prostate cancer earlier.

The new technique uses PET/CT imaging with a compound called choline, that has been around for about a decade.

Choline helps doctors detect areas that suggest the presence of cancer and is injected into a patient’s vein just minutes before the scanning starts, as it works for only a short time.

Images of the prostate area will then be taken, followed by a body scan from the head to the thighs, to look for prostate cancer cells.

The new technique, which takes about 40 minutes, is currently available in Singapore only at the Singapore General Hospital.

It was introduced in August 2011 and close to 50 patients have undergone the new scan.

Dr Andrew Tan, Associate Consultant at SGH’s Department of Nuclear Medicine and PET, said the new imaging technique fills in the gap to help diagnostic treatment.

Conventionally, prostate cancer is detected through a physical examination and a blood test to detect elevated Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels.

Doctors then recommend a biopsy of the prostate if the tests indicate the presence of cancer.

From there, doctors will use the various findings to determine how far the cancer has spread.

With the new scan, Dr Tan said they are now able to detect microscopic areas of cancer.

This enhances the staging process, which helps in treating prostate cancer.

Dr Tan added that worldwide, 1,000 patients have undergone the new scan and no side effects are known.

Still, the new technique has its drawbacks.

Such a scan will set the patient back by S$2,600 a pop.

And as it’s operator-dependent, the scan is not able to detect about 10-15 per cent of the cases and may show false-positives or false-negatives.

Dr Tan also said that only two groups of patients need such specific scans.

The first – patients who’ve undergone treatment and a recurrence is suspected.

The other – those with high risks of disease spread to other parts of the body.

Prostate cancer is the third most common cancer among Singapore men and four in 100 patients die from the disease.

More than 500 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year.

The exact cause of prostate cancer is unknown but men who are over the age of 55, with a high animal fat and red meat diet, are more susceptible.

Common symptoms include urinary difficulties, frequent lower back or hips pain, and blood in the urine.

– CNA/ck

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