Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Screening for Prostate Cancer

A government panel recommended last week that men over 75 not be screened for prostate cancer with the PSA blood test. Apparently a positive PSA test often leads to aggressive treatment that is probably not necessary and may actually do more harm than good. The panel also said that even for men under 75, the evidence for a net benefit from the test is still inconclusive, and therefore they no longer recommend routine screening of younger men, either.
The evidence for the panel’s decision is presented in a review article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The review summarizes the findings of six different research studies published from 2004-2011, one of which I highlighted in this blog previously (see this blog March 26, 2009)
The panel’s recommendations are likely to meet resistance from drug companies and some physicians and patients. We tend to fear cancer, and therefore we tend to treat it aggressively whenever possible. But most prostate cancers grow so slowly that they generally are not much of a threat. In fact, autopsy studies have shown that most men aged 85 actually had prostate cancer when they died – its just not what killed them.

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