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Rapid Prostate Cancer Screening Could Benefit African American Men

Researchers say technology is available to produce inexpensive tests that could be used in barbershops

African American man sitting in a chair in a barbershop

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A rapid prostate cancer screening kit could provide early warning to African American men and others at greater risk to the disease who may have limited access to health care, according to researchers at Cornell University.

In a proof-of-concept test, the scientists were able to show that a drop of blood on a test strip could be analyzed by a small portable reader for a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) that may indicate prostate cancer. The results of the test appear online in the journal Current Research in Biotechnology.

“We’ll be able to take a drop of blood in a community setting such as a barbershop and be able to deliver results in 10 to 15 minutes right there, which can indicate when somebody needs to come in for further tests,” study coauthor Saurabh Mehta, M.D., a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell, said in a statement.

Similar test strips are used in at-home COVID-19 antigen tests and pregnancy tests, but Mehta and his fellow researchers used one designed to be more sensitive to PSAs. They also utilized a reader that calculates and displays a measurement of PSA concentration in the blood rather than simply giving a positive or negative result, like a pregnancy test does.

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study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2020 pointed out that prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men in the United States, with approximately 192,000 new cases and 33,000 deaths that year. It also noted that rates of late-stage prostate cancer were two to three times higher in Black men than in white men ages 20–74. Genetics, as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity, are thought to play a role in that disparity, though more research is needed.

The scientists recently received funding from the U.S. Department of Defense that will allow them to continue their research and test the device in certain underserved neighborhoods in New York in partnership with other colleagues at Cornell.