Newly Approved Prostate Cancer Scan Can Detect Cells that Have Spread to Lymph Nodes

| | October 04, 2021

Drs. Hope and Carroll

Thomas Hope (left), MD, and Peter Carroll, MD, stand at the PACS workstation where the images from the PSMA PETs are viewed and interpreted. The imaging technique received FDA approval in 2020. Photo by Maurice Ramirez

A revolutionary new diagnostic method for prostate cancer can detect prostate cancer cells that have spread to lymph nodes both inside and outside the pelvis, according to the UC San Francisco and UCLA team whose earlier work led to the test’s FDA approval.  

The test, which is now available at UCSF and UCLA, makes cancer cells light up on positron emission tomography (PET) with a radioactive compound developed more than a decade ago in Germany. The method, known as PSMA PET imaging, should become more widely available as commercial firms enter the market.

“This is a game changer,” said Peter Carroll, MD, MPH, professor in the UCSF Department of Urology and a senior researcher for the study. “It will lead to more refined treatment for men with high-risk prostate cancer at the time of diagnosis, as well as for previously treated men whose cancers recur.”

The key to this improved PET imaging approach is an injectable formulation containing a small amount of Gallium 68 PSMA-11. Within the body the diagnostic agent attaches to a protein called the prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA), which is abundant on prostate cells that are cancerous, but not on normal tissue. Gallium 68 PSMA-11 emits positron particles detectible with PET imaging, highlighting tissue to which cancer has spread.