Better biomarkers that can discriminate between aggressive and indolent phenotypes of prostate cancer are urgently needed. In the first 20 years of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) era, screening for prostate cancer has successfully reduced prostate cancer mortality, but has led to significant problems with overdiagnosis and overtreatment. As a result, many men are subjected to unnecessary prostate biopsies and overtreatment of indolent cancer in order to save one man from dying of prostate cancer. A novel blood test known as the 4Kscore® Test (OPKO Lab, Nashville, TN) incorporates a panel of four kallikrein protein biomarkers (total PSA, free PSA, intact PSA, and human kallikrein-related peptidase 2) and other clinical information in an algorithm that provides a percent risk for a high-grade (Gleason score ≥ 7) cancer on biopsy. In 10 peer-reviewed publications, the four kallikrein biomarkers and algorithm of the 4Kscore Test have been shown to improve the prediction not only of biopsy histopathology, but also surgical pathology and occurrence of aggressive, metastatic disease. Recently, a blinded prospective trial of the 4Kscore Test was conducted across the United States among 1012 men. The 4Kscore Test replicated previous European results showing accuracy in predicting biopsy outcome of Gleason score ≥ 7. In a recent case-control study nested within a population-based cohort from Västerbotten, Sweden, the four kallikrein biomarkers of the 4Kscore Test also predicted the risk for aggressive prostate cancer that metastasized within 20 years after the test was administered. These results indicate that men with an abnormal PSA or digital rectal examination result, and for whom an initial or repeat prostate biopsy is being considered, would benefit from a reflex 4Kscore Test to add important information to the clinical decision-making process. A high-risk 4Kscore Test result may be used to select men with a high probability of aggressive prostate cancer who would benefit from a biopsy of the prostate to prevent an adverse and potentially lethal outcome from prostate cancer. Men with a low 4Kscore Test result may safely defer biopsy.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the United States, accounting for an estimated 27% of all newly diagnosed cancers in 2014. Since the advent of screening for prostate cancer with serum prostate-specific antigen (PSA), we have seen a significant decline in prostate cancer mortality. Randomized clinical trials have reported a 20% to 40% reduction in death from prostate cancer in men undergoing routine screening compared with those who are not screened. However, these trials, and a trial showing little difference between opportunistic and systematic screening, have raised the concern for overdiagnosis and overtreatment of indolent prostate cancer. The fundamental concern is that an overwhelming number of men are subjected to interventions such as prostate biopsy in order to prevent one man’s death from prostate cancer.
Prostate biopsy is an invasive procedure with significant complications, such as bleeding, urinary retention, and life-threatening infection. A recent population-based study from Ontario, Canada, revealed a fourfold increase to 4.1% for the rate of hospital admissions after prostate biopsy from 1996 to 2005, with 72% of admissions being due to infection. These risks, combined with the enormous anxiety involved in undergoing the procedure, present a significant burden to any man considering prostate cancer screening.
Today, most men diagnosed with prostate cancer have a tumor that is unlikely to pose a threat to their life expectancies. A recent systematic analysis suggested that up to 60% of prostate cancers diagnosed in contemporary studies can be safely observed without a need for immediate intervention. However, in the United States, because of the concern for possible undergrading of prostate cancer due to biopsy sampling error, 90% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer undergo treatment and approximately 66% will be confirmed to have indolent Gleason score 6 prostate cancer, suggesting a significant problem with overtreatment. Although treatment for localized prostate cancer provides excellent cancer control, it comes at a significant detriment to health-related quality of life (HRQoL). Previous studies have reported significant changes in HRQoL after primary treatment for prostate cancer, primarily in the domains of sexual and urinary function and bother. Given the physical and psychological burden of these secondary adverse events, many government agencies and patients are beginning to question the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening and treatment.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force recently advised against routine screening for prostate cancer, claiming that the risks of screening outweigh the benefits. However, 20% to 30% of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer are found to have high-grade disease at presentation; without screening, these men would lose their opportunity for cure. It is clear that new biomarkers or tests that promote the detection of both indolent and aggressive prostate cancer are unlikely to be helpful. We need tests that focus on the detection of aggressive tumors, not the indolent ones that are better left alone. Aggressive prostate cancer, for purposes of this review, is defined as cancer with a Gleason score ≥ 7 and tumors that are most likely to progress to metastatic disease and death. Targeted detection of aggressive prostate cancer would allow urologists to diagnose and treat those men most likely to benefit from aggressive intervention to avoid premature death. Conversely, those men harboring non-life-threatening disease would be able to avoid unnecessary interventions. The 4Kscore® Test (OPKO Lab, Nashville, TN) is a new blood test that accurately identifies the risk of aggressive prostate cancer. The 4Kscore Test plays an important clinical role as a reflex test prior to proceeding with initial prostate biopsy in men with an elevated PSA level or abnormal digital rectal examination (DRE) results, or after a prior negative biopsy and persistently abnormal PSA levels.