The traditionally painful test for prostate cancer is set to become a thing of the past for men after researchers in Birmingham developed a new blood screening process.

The new test will will identify men at high risk of the killer disease years before it develops, according to researchers.

It is hoped the procedure, developed by scientists at the University of Birmingham, will provide 90 per cent accuracy in a massive improvement on current techniques which miss around 25 per cent of cases.

Prostate cancer is the most common form of the disease in men and late diagnosis is a principle cause of 11,000 deaths every year.

Scientists working at Alta Innovations, the  spin out subsidiary of the University of Birmingham have developed a test that could be available commercially within 18 months.

Current testing measures the levels of a protein in the blood called prostate specific antigen, or PSA.

Professor Paula Mendes, leading the research effort, says current PSA testing misses about 25% of cancers.

Professor Mendes said: ‘The current test for prostate cancer scans the body for all types of PSA’s, however there are specific types which give a more accurate indication of the likelihood of prostate cancer developing. The current testing process is quite invasive and can be painful for men.

‘Our test identifies the specific PSA structures that are related to a strong likelihood of prostate cancer existing and this can be identified many years before the disease develops.

‘The detection process allows for a simple sample of blood to be taken for diagnosis.

‘A few drops of blood from a pin prick will give a far more accurate diagnosis. We expect an accuracy rate of 90% from our procedure.’

‘Currently patients have to wait around two weeks for their results and this waiting can prove to be very stressful.’

Dr John Fossey, who is working along with Professor Paula Mendes on the breakthrough said: ‘With this process men will receive their diagnosis within minutes, which means if the cancer is detected early, the cancer can be treated earlier with the result that survival rates will dramatically increase.’

The survival rate for men suffering from prostate cancer has increased in the past 40 years. Last year 41,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, with around 11,000 men dying from the disease.

Professor Mendes said: ‘The process developed in our laboratories will improve those survival rates and save lives.’