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A new technique to screen for prostate cancer has been discovered by researchers working at the Northwestern University. This method significantly reduces the number of false positives.

The standard method for detecting prostate cancer measures blood levels of a chemical called prostate-specific antigen or PSA. This protein is produced by prostate gland cells and tends to be in higher levels in males with prostate cancer.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein secreted by the cells of the prostate gland. PSA is present in smaller levels in the serum of men with healthy prostates, but is often higher in cases of prostate cancer and in other prostate disorders. A blood test to detect the levels of PSA is considered the most efficient test currently available for the early diagnosis of prostate cancer. However, its effectiveness has also been questioned by many cancer experts since it has a positive predictive value of about 35%.

PSA test often fails to differentiate between aggressive cancer cells and slow-growing ones. As a result, men may help to undergo unnecessary biopsies and treatment which can have serious side effects such as incontinence and impotence.

The new method, known as the prostate health index, is more accurate in identifying prostate cancer. In the study, it identified cancer in men over 50 whose PSA levels put them in a grey zone where it is not very clear if a biopsy is necessary.

Higher index score means higher probability of aggressive cancer. Males whose score was under 25 had a 3% chance of developing aggressive cancer. On the other hand, males with index score above 50 had a 50% chance.

The study was led by Dr William J Catalona. The results of the study will appear in the May edition of the Journal of Urology.

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