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Prostate and Urological Health

5 Things to Know About PSMA-PET

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a highly sensitive new body scan.

The test, referred to as PSMA-PET, can help doctors find cancer that may have spread beyond the prostate so it can be targeted for better treatment. Here are the five things you need to know about PSMA-PET:

What is PSMA-PET?

PSMA stands for prostate-specific membrane antigen. PSMA is a protein found mainly on prostate cancer cells. PET stands for positron emission tomography. PET is a scan that uses a special dye with radioactive tracers to scan the body for cancer. So, PSMA-PET is an exciting new body scan that can potentially help doctors see and track hard-to-find prostate cancer earlier than current imaging techniques.

How does PSMA-PET work?

During a PSMA-PET scan, doctors inject patients through a vein with a small radioactive molecule. This radioactive tracer will be attracted to PSMA on the surface of prostate cancer cells. When the scan is complete, the radioactive part will light up, giving doctors a clear image of exactly where prostate cancer may have traveled to in a man’s body. Researchers believe PSMA-PET will be a more accurate way to find where prostate cancer may have spread in the body, even in tiny amounts (as small as a garden pea), so it can be more effectively treated.

Is the radiation in PSMA-PET dangerous?

The simple answer is no. The idea of having a radioactive molecule injected into your body may sound scary, but the molecule — called Gallium-68 — is very safe. It is given in extremely small quantities, and no adverse side effects have been reported among hundreds of thousands of patients receiving PSMA radiotracers. It was recently approved by the FDA after years of clinical testing. You are exposed to some amount of radiation through any PET scan. However, the amount of radiation exposure from a PSMA-PET scan was found to be lower than with current standard-of-care imaging techniques.

Is PSMA-PET right for every prostate cancer patient?

The current FDA approval is for two main groups of patients: 1. men with high-risk prostate cancer before treatment with prostatectomy or radiation therapy, and 2. men who have already been treated for localized prostate cancer who have a rising PSA level, according to Thomas Hope, M.D., a Prostate Cancer Foundation-funded researcher and one of the lead investigators in PSMA-PET. In essence, these are patients whose prostate cancer may have spread. The PSMA-PET scan is used to find out whether distant disease is present, and, if so, exactly where it is located in the body so it can be treated.

Where can I get PSMA-PET?

Following the FDA approval, the Gallium-68 PSMA-PET scan is only available in two centers in California: University of California, Los Angeles and University of California, San Francisco. Despite its limited availability at the moment, it’s important for patients to see this new FDA approval as a huge step forward. The approval opens so many doors for the future of PSMA-PET. Other cancer centers may be able to offer this scan in the near future, and additional imaging agents are likely to be approved shortly. In fact, by the time you read this, you may be able to check with your doctor about other options, including 18F-DCFPyL.

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