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Medicare funding for prostate cancer MRI removes biopsy risk

Sue Dunlevy, National Health Reporter, News Corp Australia Network

April 11, 2018 10:27pm

EXCLUSIVE

Tens of thousands of men will be able to get a Medicare funded MRI to check if they have prostate cancer in a $15-20 million measure expected in the federal budget.

A new $400 Medicare rebate will be made available for scans to diagnose and monitor prostate cancer, the most common cancer in men, News Corp understands.

The rebate will be a financial boon to thousands of men currently paying the full $600 cost of the scans themselves and could help those who can’t afford the test avoid a biopsy.

Around 20,000 men are expected to benefit from the rebate every year.

Around 20,000 men to benefit. Picture supplied.

It will revolutionise prostate cancer care by reducing the number of diagnostic biopsies that can leave men with dangerous infections and other troubling side effects including infection, bleeding and urinary obstruction.

Instead of having a biopsy to check if they have cancer men with elevated levels of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) in their blood will now be able to have a simple MRI scan to determine whether they have cancer.

It will also mean men who decide against prostate cancer surgery and opt to have their prostate cancer put under active surveillance will for the first time be able to have an annual MRI to check if it is becoming more dangerous.

It has been estimated Medicare funding for prostate MRIs will cost $12 million a year but the health system will save $9 million as a result of fewer expensive biopsies being performed.

An MRI costs around $600 and a biopsy $2,400.

MRIs are cheaper than biopsies. Picture supplied.

The government body that determines which new medical services should attract a Medicare rebate the Medical Services Advisory Committee recommended the Prostate MRI’s receive rebate in December last year.

Health Minister Greg Hunt must approve the rebate and News Corp understands funding for the measure is expected to be announced it in the budget.

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said the minster was committed to providing more support for men with prostate cancer.

“The Minister is confident of making a positive announcement on this decision in the near future,” he said.

The decision is likely to be a real benefit to the one in five men who have clinically insignificant slow growing cancer because they will avoid overtreatment of their disease which can be monitored now by MRI.

Men who undergo surgery or radiation treatment for prostate cancer are at risk of long term adverse outcomes including urinary incontinence, erectile dysfunction and bowel urgency.

If low risk cancers can be monitored by MRI instead these risks will be avoided.

Prostate Cancer Foundation’s Wendy Winnall said MRI scans have been greatly improved with recent new technology, known as multiparametric MRI which is better at detecting clinically significant tumours than biopsy.

“The way that prostate cancer is diagnosed in Australia needs to be improved. Clinically significant tumours are sometimes missed and relatively harmless tumours are often detected,” she said.

Multiparametric MRI was more likely to detect clinically significant tumours than the standard transrectal ultrasound-guided biopsy, she said.

Using multiparametric MRI before a prostate biopsy has the potential to reduce the amount of men undergoing unnecessary biopsies by 27 per cent, she said.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia says it fully supports the Medicare reimbursement for prostate MRI scans.