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Prostate Cancer Screening Test Not Recommended

Aired 10/7/11 on KPBS News.

A federal task force announced they do not recommend routine prostate cancer screenings because “it does more harm than good."

— The United States Preventive Services Task Force analyzed two prostate cancer screening studies. One was done in the U.S., one in Europe.

Based on those two studies, they determined the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test detects cancer only about a third of the time in otherwise healthy men.

The panel did not consider those good enough odds for the test to be “beneficial.”

Doctors who treat men with elevated PSA tests and prostate cancer vehemently disagree.

The American Urological Association (AUA) released a firm rejection of the recommendation against the screenings.

“Disparaging the test before a suitable alternative is widely available does a great disservice to men who may benefit from early prostate cancer detection," the statement of from the AUA said.

Doctors do admit the PSA test is flawed. Studies show false positives are common, as the non-specific test does not differentiate between other prostate abnormalities like inflammation and infection.

Still, Christopher Kane, M.D. and chief urologist at UC San Diego’s Moore’s Cancer Center said about a third of men tested end up having prostate cancer.

Enough, he said, to make PSA testing a valuable place to start.

“It doesn’t mean that we need to radically treat every man diagnosed with prostate cancer. But, we should be screening, detecting and then making an informed decision about who needs treatment and who does not need treatment,” explained Kane.

Kane also called it “nihilistic” to abandon the only blood test widely used for prostate cancer screening.

“Our strategy is to screen men and then individualize their treatment to fit their needs," Kane offered as an alternative plan.

In the U.S., 30,000 men die from prostate cancer each year, making it the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men in the country.

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