‘Superbug’ deaths spur probe into prostate biopsies

As an increasing number of patients being tested for prostate cancer contract potentially lethal drug-resistant infections, some physicians are rethinking their approach to prostate cancer screening.

Several studies released in the past year reveal that infectious complications from biopsies have more than doubled in less than a decade, and a growing percentage of patients who undergo needle biopsy tests are becoming critically ill and dying from bacterial infections, including sepsis.

A tissue biopsy of the prostate to detect cancer typically entails sending an ultrasound-guided needle about a dozen times through the rectum to collect specimens from the walnut-sized gland that sits under the bladder. The test carries an infection risk because the needle can take bacteria from the bowel into the prostate, bladder and bloodstream.

If the bacteria is resistant to antibiotics given at the time of the biopsy, the routine, 15-minute procedure can turn into a dangerous situation.

More than 1 million transrectal prostate biopsies are done in the U.S. each year to diagnose cancers in men whose screening blood tests suggest they may have the disease, but no studies have examined the risk of sepsis globally. Instead doctors are trying to gauge the scope of the problem from studies beginning to emerge from North America, Europe and Asia.

For example, a research team at the Odette Cancer Center in Toronto uncovered the emerging infection risk last year after examining more than 75,000 electronic records of biopsy patients treated in Ontario between 1996 and 2005.

The team discovered that the chance of being hospitalized within a month of the procedure had increased fourfold in less than a decade, reaching 4.1%in 2005 from 1% in 1996; of these, 72% were diagnosed with infections.

Source: Bloomberg News

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