5 Things to Know about PSMA-PET
If you have your ear to the ground regarding all things prostate cancer you may have heard some buzz about PSMA-PET and want to know more. On the other hand, maybe you’ve never heard of PSMA-PET before in your life. We’ve got you covered either way, here are the 5 things you need to know about the newly FDA approved PSMA-PET scan.
- What is PSMA-PET? Let’s start with PSMA, PSMA stands for prostate-specific membrane antigen. That may sound intimidating, but essentially it is a protein that is found mainly on prostate cancer cells. PET stands for positron emission tomography, which again is not as intimidating as it sounds, really all it is, is a scan that uses a special dye with radioactive tracers that allow doctors to scan for cancer or other diseases. So in essence PSMA-PET is an exciting new body scan that can help doctors see and track otherwise hard-to-find prostate cancer, potentially earlier, and in much smaller amounts compared with imaging that is currently used.
- How does PSMA-PET work? What doctors do when performing a PSMA-PET scan is inject patients (through a vein) with a small radioactive molecule that is attracted to PSMA, which as we mentioned is specific to prostate cancer cells. The radioactive part will light up when a whole body scan is done, which then allows doctors to have a clear image of exactly where the prostate cancer is in a person’s body. (Note that this FDA approval is for a particular kind of PSMA-PET scanning, in which the radioactive tracer is called Gallium-68.) Researchers believe that PSMA-PET will be a more accurate way to find where prostate cancer may have spread in the body, allowing for better treatment planning . Studies are ongoing to determine how exactly it will be used to assign the best course of treatment to patients.
- Is the radiation in PSMA-PET dangerous? The simple answer is no. Many of us have negative associations to the word radiation, so having a radioactive molecule injected in your body may sound scary. But the radioactive molecule is very safe – it’s given in extremely small quantities, and no side effects have been reported among hundreds of thousands of patients receiving PSMA radiotracers. It was recently FDA approved after years of clinical research. You are exposed to radiation through the PET scan, or the PET/CT scan if a CT scan is also used. However, the amount of radiation exposure from a PSMA-PET/CT scan was found to be lower than with current standard-of-care imaging techniques.
- Is PSMA-PET right for every prostate cancer patient? Any time a new treatment or detection method is approved it is always very exciting news for patients across the board, but not all of these are right for every patient. This current FDA approval is for two main groups of patients, according to Thomas Hope, MD, a PCF-funded researcher and one of the leading investigators in PSMA-PET: “in high-risk men before treatment with prostatectomy or radiation therapy, and in men who have already been treated for localized prostate cancer who have a rising PSA.” So, these are patients who may have metastases, and the purpose of the scan is to find out whether distant disease is present, and, if so, where it is.
- Where can I get PSMA-PET? The FDA approval of PSMA-PET is incredibly exciting news for patients and the future of prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment. Immediately following FDA approval, this type of PSMA-PET (using Gallium-68) is only available at 2 centers in California: UCLA and UCSF. For patients unable to travel to these locations, that may be discouraging news, but it is important to see the new FDA approval as the enormous step forward that it is. Though not widely available yet, the FDA approval opens so many doors for the future of PSMA-PET. Other centers may be able to offer these types of scans in the relatively near future, and other types of PSMA-PET are also being developed. Clinical trials of PSMA-PET are ongoing; you can search for these using PCF’s Clinical Trial Finder tool. If you are interested in exploring PSMA-PET as an option, consult with your oncologist to see if it is right for you.