MRI’s Value for Prostate Screening

Among cancer screening tests, prostate screening could be the most problematic. But a new study published this week in JAMA Network Open offers guidance on the role that MRI can play in making prostate screening more effective – and opening the door to population-based screening.

The problem with prostate screening is that PSA tests often discover disease that’s either indolent or slow-growing. 

  • This can lead to a cascade of interventions that are expensive and have harms of their own. 

But prostate cancer remains a common – and deadly – cancer, with 1.5M cases globally in 2022, and it’s the second most commonly occurring cancer in men after lung cancer.

  • Given these statistics, there has to be a way to perform prostate screening more effectively.

MRI offers one such alternative, and a clinical consensus has emerged that performing a single MRI scan after a positive PSA result can help stratify men before biopsy. 

  • In this scenario, men might not be referred to biopsy if their MRI scan is negative, and adoption of this protocol has helped reduce prostate biopsies in PSA-positive men while still detecting clinically significant cancer.   

But if one MRI scan is good, are repeat MRI scans even better? In the new study, Swedish researchers investigated this question in a secondary analysis of the STHLM3-MRI trial, which involved repeat screening of 1.5k men 2-3 years after an original prostate screening.

Of the group who got repeat PSA and MRI screening, 667 men had PSA levels of 3 ng/mL or higher, the threshold for MRI testing, with the repeat scans finding … 

  • 51 men (7.6%) had equivocal lesions (PI-RADS score of 3)
  • 33 men (4.9%) had suspicious lesions (PI-RADS score of 4)
  • Only 10 men (1.5%) had lesions with PI-RADS scores of 4 or greater

The findings led the authors to conclude that cancer detection was “limited” in the second round of PSA and MRI prostate screening, and detection of low-grade tumors was low.

The Takeaway

At first blush, STHLM3-MRI may seem like a negative study, but it actually helps frame the debate over prostate cancer screening and MRI’s role by omitting the need for multiple repeat scans. The results also give clinicians confidence that it’s safe to omit prostate biopsies in men who have a single negative MRI result – a key finding in reducing the downstream costs of any population-based screening program.

Prostate MR AI’s Experience Boost

A new European Radiology study showed that Siemens Healthineers’ AI-RAD Companion Prostate MR solution can improve radiologists’ lesion assessment accuracy (especially less-experienced rads), while reducing reading times and lesion grading variability. 

The researchers had four radiologists (two experienced, two inexperienced) assess lesions in 172 prostate MRI exams, with and without AI support, finding that AI-RAD Companion Prostate MR improved:

  • The less-experienced radiologists’ performance, significantly (AUCs: 0.66 to 0.80 & 0.68 to 0.80)
  • The experienced rads’ performance, modestly (AUCs: 0.81 to 0.86 & 0.81 to 0.84)
  • Overall PI-RADS category and Gleason score correlations (r = 0.45 to 0.57)
  • Median reading times (157 to 150 seconds)

The study also highlights Siemens Healthineers’ emergence as an AI research leader, leveraging its relationship / funding advantages over AI-only vendors and its (potentially) greater focus on AI research than its OEM peers to become one of imaging AI’s most-published vendors (here are some of its other recent studies).

The Takeaway

Given the role that experience plays in radiologists’ prostate MRI accuracy, and noting prostate MRI’s historical challenges with variability, this study makes a solid case for AI-RAD Companion Prostate MR’s ability to improve rads’ diagnostic performance (without slowing them down). It’s also a reminder that Siemens Healthineers is serious about supporting its homegrown AI portfolio through academic research.

A Case for Multiparametric Ultrasound

A new Lancet study out of the UK provided the strongest evidence yet that multiparametric ultrasound might deserve a core role in prostate cancer screening, either as a complement or alternative to multiparametric MRI. That could be a big deal given mpMRI’s cost, time, and accessibility challenges, and makes this study worth a deeper look.

The Study – The researchers performed mpUS and mpMRI exams on 306 patients with signs of prostate cancer (either elevated PSAs or abnormal rectal exams), and then conducted targeted biopsies on the 257 patients who had positive imaging findings. 

The biopsy results revealed cancer in 133 patients, including 83 clinically significant cancers, while showing how mpUS might contribute to prostate cancer diagnosis:

  • mpUS was positive in 272 patients (89%)
  • mpMRI was positive in 238 patients (78%)
  • mpUS identified 66 clinically significant cases (79%)
  • mPMRI identified 77 clinically significant cases (93%)
  • mpMRI and mpUS combined to detect all 83 clinically significant cancers
  • mpUS exclusively detected 6 clinically significant cancers 
  • mpMRI exclusively detected 17 clinically significant cancers

In other words, mpUS was only slightly less accurate than mpMRI for clinically significant cancer detection (-4.3%), but led to far more biopsies (+11.1%), while the combined modalities notably improved clinically significant cancer detection (+7.2%). 

The Takeaway

mpMRI’s role in prostate cancer screening is still secure, but this study shows that mpUS could improve cancer detection if the modalities are used together. Perhaps more importantly, it suggests that mpUS could be a valid prostate cancer detection option for the half of the world that doesn’t have access to advanced imaging or for the many patients who can’t/won’t undergo MRI (orthopedic implants, claustrophobia etc.).

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