The Checkup

By Adapted from
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prostate Cancer Screening's Toll

A blood test commonly used to screen for prostate cancer has led many men to get unnecessary treatment, according to a study by H. Gilbert Welch of the VA Outcomes Group.

The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test measures a protein in the blood that is produced by the prostate gland. Doctors started using it routinely around 1987 to spot men with prostate cancer early. But because prostate cancer grows so slowly, it never causes problems for a lot of men who have it.

Welch analyzed federal cancer statistics between 1986 and 2005 and calculated that 1.3 million men had been diagnosed with prostate cancer since PSA testing began. Of those, more than 1 million underwent treatment, most of whom probably did not need it, according to a report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

For every man whose life was saved by PSA testing, at least 20 underwent unnecessary treatment that may have left them incontinent, impotent and suffering from other side effects, the researchers calculated.

-- Rob Stein

ewellman wrote:

This article makes me very cross. This test saves lives. My partner is only 67 and the cancer has spread to his bones, so I know all about the anguish of this disease. I would do anything to encourage all men to have a PSA test every year.

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