New prostate cancer screening trial could save thousands of lives


Prostate cancer awareness ribbon (blue)

Thousands of patients in the UK could benefit from a new screening trial to detect prostate cancer.

A new trial to gather evidence on screening methods to detect prostate cancer is set to be led by researchers at Imperial College London, working alongside UCL, Queen Mary University of London and the Institute of Cancer Research.

The £42million TRANSFORM screening trial, backed by charity Prostate Cancer UK, aims to find the best way to screen for prostate cancer and double the number of lives it could save.

Previous trials using PSA blood tests and biopsies have shown that it is possible to prevent between 8% and 20% of prostate cancer deaths depending on how regularly patients are screened. But healthy people can potentially be harmed by this approach.

Currently, there are more than 12,000 prostate cancer deaths in the UK alone, and this could mean thousands of lives saved each year in the UK.

TRANSFORM will bring together leading prostate cancer researchers to test new approaches that have the potential to more than double the impact of screening, and ultimately reduce prostate cancer deaths by up to 40%.

Transforming screening

Hundreds of thousands of men and those assigned male at birth from across the UK will be recruited to TRANSFORM, with participants invited to take part in screening from next year (2025), and the trial could see its first results within three years.

Professor Hashim Ahmed, Professor of Urology at Imperial College London, Chair of Urology at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and chief investigator for TRANSFORM said: “This is by far the biggest, most exciting trial in prostate cancer screening and diagnosis in over 20 years. By evaluating fast MRI scans, PSA testing and genetics, we’ll finally be able to prove which is the best of the bunch when it comes to diagnosis. We will also see if they perform better in combination.”

Prof Hashim Ahmed
Professor Hashim Ahmed, chief investigator for the TRANSFORM study

As part of the study, researchers will compare multiple methods of screening to find the safest, most accurate and most cost-effective method to screen for prostate cancer.

The scale of the trial will also enable the team to create a biobank of samples, images and data for future research.

The flexible design of the trial will also enable researchers to incorporate new testing methods at any stage of the process.

Stage one

In the first stage of the trial, researchers will compare multiple potential screening options, including PSA blood tests, faster versions of MRI scans (known as Prostagram) and genetic testing to identify those at higher risk.

These new approaches will be compared to the current NHS diagnostic process to show which methods perform best and should be taken forward to the next stage of the trial.

This first stage will recruit around 12,500 participants and take three years to complete. These findings could impact how patients are tested for prostate cancer currently.

Stage Two

In the second stage of the trial, researchers will recruit up to 300,000 participants to test the most promising screening methods to provide definitive evidence for the best way to screen for prostate cancer.

Participants will be followed up for at least 10 years to track how screening approaches impact both the number of lives saved, as well as patients’ quality of life and whether they experience harms associated with potentially unnecessary biopsies and treatment.

Professor Rakesh Heer, Professor of Urology at Imperial College London and a clinician, said: “TRANSFORM is not only the most important diagnosis trial in more than two decades, but it could also prove a game changer for prostate cancer research as a whole.

“The huge bank of samples, images and data from the trial will be at a scale never before seen in prostate cancer. This treasure trove will help researchers around the world create and validate innovative new tests, treatments, and AI tools. Ultimately, this will benefit scientists and clinicians everywhere, leading to better practices and helping even more men in the future.”

Transform study logoDr Matthew Hobbs, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, who commissioned the trial, said: “Prostate cancer is the most common cancer without a screening programme and it’s about time we changed that. We know that earlier diagnosis saves lives, but previous trials haven’t been able to prove that enough men would be saved using PSA tests alone, while they did show that these old screening methods caused significant unnecessary harm to men.

“We must now prove that there are better ways to find aggressive prostate cancer that will save even more lives while causing less harm. That’s why I’m so delighted and proud to announce TRANSFORM. This is the research that will get us there.”

Professor Ahmed added: “By creating flexibility in the way we’ve designed the trial, we can incorporate promising new tests as they’re developed, future-proofing the study and making sure we design the best possible potential screening programme.

“Not only that, but the massive biobank that’s being created has the potential to drive prostate cancer research at a rate we’ve never seen before. I’m delighted to be working with Prostate Cancer UK alongside some of the best minds in prostate cancer research.”

TRANSFORM is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), which committed £17.5million towards the trial, and is supported by Movember.

Cancer risk

Currently, 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. Men over the age of 50, who are black, or have a family history are all at increased risk. As Black men have double the risk for prostate cancer compared to other men, the study team will ensure that at least 10% of patients invited to participate in the trial are Black men.

This is vital as previous trials have not included enough Black men to adequately demonstrate the harms and benefits of screening for these men – despite their significantly higher risk.

The team aims to recruit through GPs across the whole of the UK, and across the wide age group that can be expected to be screened for prostate cancer.

Patients will be invited to participate in the trial from next year, and it will not be possible to volunteer.

The six lead researchers for the trial announced today represent four of the UK’s biggest research centres and will work alongside 16 co-applicants from across the country. They are: Professor Hashim Ahmed and Professor Rakesh Heer at Imperial College London; Professor Rosalind Eeles at the Institute of Cancer Research; Professor Mark Emberton and Professor Caroline Moore at University College London; Professor Rhian Gabe at Queen Mary University of London.

Professor Hashim Ahmed is supported by the NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre.


This article is based on materials created by Prostate Cancer UK



Ryan O'Hare

Ryan O'Hare
Communications Division

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