About 240,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in the United States. One of the biggest challenges for doctors is diagnosing this type of cancer correctly. Finding out requires removing part of the tissue. It's called a biopsy. It's an uncomfortable test, and local researchers say it's being done more often than it should.
Three years ago, Don Buck had a biopsy to check for prostate cancer. It came back clear. A year later, a second biopsy showed no cancer.
"I'm thinking I'm in pretty good shape," said Buck.
But a prior test known as a PSA told a different story. Buck's levels kept rising. They went up 600 percent in five years. So he decided to see urologist Leonard Marks to find out if his biopsies could be wrong.
"The conventional way to biopsy the prostate is not a perfect method," said Dr. Marks.
Traditional biopsies are blind, meaning doctors randomly remove pieces of the prostate in hopes of locating a tumor. Nearly 1 million prostate cancer biopsies are performed each year. Seventy-five percent come back negative.
"Some of them will contain a cancer," said Marks.
UCLA's Dr. Marks is performing a new, targeted biopsy that's more accurate.
First, patients undergo an MRI. A special device fuses the pictures with real-time 3-D ultrasound, allowing doctors to see the lesion during the biopsy.
"Before, we were never able to target like that," said Marks.
In a study published in the Journal of Urology, Dr. Marks performed the targeted biopsy on 171 men who either had slow-growing prostate cancer or elevated PSA levels.
Prostate cancer was found in 53 percent of the volunteers.
The targeted biopsy showed Don Buck did have cancer, and it was aggressive.
"Within two years of the time that I came in to see Dr. Marks, I could have been dead," said Buck.
It's a test that Buck says saved his life.
In the study, researchers found that 38 percent of participants who were diagnosed with cancer ended up having an aggressive tumor which doctors say would have been more likely to spread if not found.