Prostate Cancer Screening Changes Spark Controversy
Doctors should no longer perform a routine blood test for prostate cancer, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced on Monday. The task force said that the potential benefits of the test are outweighed by the drawbacks that come from a positive test.
The test, called a PSA test, looks for a specific marker in the blood that's indicative of prostate cancer. However, the test can also detect cancers that are too slow growing to ever pose a threat, the task force said, which can lead to unnecessary treatment and radiation.
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"It's important for doctors and patients to understand that our current approach to screening for prostate cancer does not serve men well," Dr. Virginia Moyer, task force chair and professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in a statement. "There is a critical need for a better test - one that leads to early detection of cancers that threaten men's health, but minimizes unnecessary, risky tests and treatments that do not lead to longer or more healthful lives."
Not providing the test will not cause much harm, the task force said. They said one out of 1,000 men avoid death by getting a PSA test - a number that is not high enough to compensate for the potential harms.
The task force found that out of every 1,000 men who get the PSA test, between 30 and 40 will develop urinary incontinence, two will have a major cardiac event and one will develop a potentially deadly blood clot as a result of treatment, which may often be unnecessary.
"Before getting a PSA, all men deserve to know what the science tells us about PSA screening: There is a very small potential benefit and significant potential harms," Dr. Michael LeFevre, task force co-chair and associate chair in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, said in the release. "We encourage clinicians to consider this evidence and not screen their patients with a PSA test unless the individual being screened understands what is known about PSA screening, and makes a personal decision that even a small possibility of benefit outweighs the known risk of harms."
However, Dr. Peter Schlegel, chairman of urology at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, told CBS News that not providing the test will cause the death rate of prostate cancer to increase.
"Death rates from prostate cancer have dropped dramatically in the U.S. despite an aging population, which suggests evaluation and early treatment of prostate cancer is valuable in saving lives," he said. "There will be more people who die of prostate cancer because of the application of these study results."
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