Thrive by IU Health

June 14, 2019

New Agent Helps IU Health Arnett identify re-occurring prostate cancer

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Indiana University Health Arnett is using a new imaging agent, Axumin, to help doctors identify and localize re-occurring prostate cancer. Axumin is a radioactive agent used for positron emission tomography (PET) imaging that can achieve early detection of recurrent prostate cancer after surgery or radiation. According to the American Cancer Society one in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and of those diagnosed one in three will have a re-occurrence of prostate cancer.

For years, healthcare professionals have relied on standard body and bone scans with a blood test to measure prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. The chance of having prostate cancer increases as PSA levels increase. Normal scans are unable to determine the location of the cancer until the PSA levels are excessively elevated. An Axumin PET can detect the disease much earlier and with greater specificity, which is why it is an important development.

“Being able to detect the re-occurrence of prostate cancer has two advantages,” stated Neil Estabrook, MD, radiation oncologist with IU Health Arnett Cancer Center. “The knowledge of where the cancer is can help guide effective therapy to that specific area of the body and limit damage to other areas of the body. Secondly, an accurate scan offers a deeper insight into the disease process itself – revealing whether or not the cancer has metastasized and to what degree.”

The Axumin PET scan works by detecting the metabolic activity of the cancer itself. Axumin exploits the fact that prostate cancers absorb amino acids at a much more rapid pace than normal cells. Axumin consists of a radioactive tracer linked to an amino acid. Since the cancer cells absorb the amino acids more avidly than normal cells, the radiation concentrates inside the tumor cells. When the patient is placed under a scanner the location of high areas of radiation signal the location of the cancer in the patient’s body.

“Axumin is a great imaging development in staging prostate cancer,” added Estabrook. “The advent of improved cancer scanning with Axumin increases hope that other new types of scanning breakthroughs will be coming in the near future.”

Axumin PET is only available in select locations, including IU Health Arnett. The agent is very expensive and has a much shorter half-life than the drugs used for other PET imagining and therefore the patient must be scheduled within a very small time window.