Boston study suggests big savings by using MRIs to diagnose prostate cancer

Sep 16, 2016


AdMeTech Foundation says it can save Massachusetts more than $200 million annually by using MRIs to diagnose aggressive prostate cancer.

The finding is based on a clinical trial conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in partnership with AdMeTech, a Boston-based non-profit to advance diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.

At the First Global Summit on Precision Diagnosis for Prostate Cancer in Boston this weekend, the study found MRIs were able to better diagnose aggressive prostate cancer than traditionally used ultrasound techniques, saving men from unnecessary biopsies and surgeries.

Using traditional ultrasound, doctors at the Brigham said 42 percent of men who underwent surgery to remove the prostate actually would have benefited more if the cancer had just been monitored, largely because the cancer wasn’t that aggressive. Using MRIs, doctors were able to better diagnose when the cancer was aggressive and the prostate should be removed, resulting in only 9 percent of men having the surgery unnecessarily.

“With state-of-the-art care in one of the leading institutions, if we do MRIs preoperatively in addition to current standard diagnostic tools, MRI would drastically improve diagnoses on life threatening prostate cancer and reduce surgery for unnecessary disease,” said Dr. Faina Shtern, president & CEO of AdMeTech Foundation..

Avoiding unnecessary medical procedures has the potential to improve quality of life for thousands of patients left incontinent or impotent as a result of the surgery. Economically, the findings could help save more than $200 million annually in health care costs in Massachusetts alone.

One in seven men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, making it the most common internal cancer in America.

After blood tests find elevated levels of “prostate-specific antigens,” doctors are tasked with discovering more about the potential cancer. But current diagnostic tools cannot sort out what is aggressive and what just needs to be monitored, resulting in more than 1 million invasive prostate biopsies performed each year. Only 20 to 30 percent of those patients are diagnosed with prostate cancer.

A number of unnecessary surgeries also occur each year as a result of too-aggressive treatment plans. Studies conducted up to 2011 showed that, of the 100,000 men that received surgery for prostate cancer, roughly 90 percent of those men would have benefited more from careful observation rather than surgery.

With biopsies costing approximately $2,000, and surgeries upwards of $50,000 each, the cost implications are enormous.

Shtern said not catching aggressive cancers could have its own ramifications. Typically, treatment for aggressive prostate cancers can be between $500,000 to $1 million per patient.

“That’s why early detection makes sense,” Shtern said. “It not only saves lives, it is absolutely cost effective. But it is important for our economy and our health care business not to do procedures unnecessarily.”

The study was supported by a $1.5 million grant from the Legislature in 2013.