With an increasing number of articles being published questioning the results of prostate-specific antigen tests to diagnose prostate cancer, baby boomer men are facing uncertainty about how much to rely on the test results.
Paul Briand, a boomer blogger, thinks the tests may do more harm than good in his article “Baby Boomer Men: Beware the PSA.”
Briand quotes a New England Journal of Medicine report published yesterday on a study that shows the blood test to measure the PSA can result in overdiagnosis and overtreatment of prostate cancer.
John E. Niederhuber, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute, which funded the study, said in Briand’s article that the report shows there may be some men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer and have the side-effects of treatment, such as impotence and incontinence, with little chance of benefit.
A better way of detecting prostate cancer at its earliest stages is needed, Niederhuber said, adding so is a method of determining which tumors will progress.
The new study shows that men likely to die within 10 years – whether due to age or illness – shouldn’t have a PSA, according to the article “The Prostate Cancer Screening Controversy Continues” on the Chicago Tribune.com.
That’s because the study of nearly 77,000 men found that although blood tests for PSA identify more cancers, they don’t save more men's lives in the first 10 years of follow-up. Many prostate tumors grow slowly and aren’t dangerous, so early detection isn’t as critical as for other cancers. Meanwhile, there are significant downsides to treatment, mainly incontinence and impotence.
For men in their 50s and 60s who aren't considered at high risk, the answer isn’t still clear, the article stated. The men in the study haven't been followed long enough yet offer decisive guidance. The study will continue for several years until that data is collected.
Most physicians contacted by the Tribune for its article said they would continue to recommend annual PSA testing to men 50 and older, but would use the results from the study to inform patients of the potential risks and benefits of the test and treatment.
Being aware of the concerns about the PSA and informed about the recent study will enable boomer men to discuss test results knowledgeable with their doctors so they can make sure they won’t be experiencing the side effects of prostate cancer treatment without getting benefits.
Note: CDC Charts