PSA Testing for Prostate Cancer-To Screen or Not to Screen That is the Question

Today, nothing is more confusing for men than the concept of screening for prostate cancer.  Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, following lung cancer, and there are 250,000 men each year diagnosed with prostate cancer and causes nearly 30,000 deaths a year.  About one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime.

But some prostate cancers develop slowly, and, as the disease is more common in elderly men, most men with prostate cancer die with it and not from it. Thus, screening, diagnosis and treatment of the disease are controversial.

There is no consensus about prostate cancer screening as early diagnosis can be associated with very bothersome side effects such as erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence.  Also screening has not been universally shown to increase survival or decrease the death rate from prostate cancer.  This article will discuss the pros and cons of PSA screening for men.

Men who opt for screening undergo a digital rectal exam and a blood draw to measure a chemical called PSA or prostate specific antigen. This level of PSA can be increased in men with prostate cancer. Other conditions may cause the increase in the PSA such as benign enlargement of the prostate gland and prostate infections.

The best way to detect an early potentially deadly case is to collect yearly PSA tests over three to five years so trends can be assessed.

I like most other urologists are concerned about over treatment of prostate cancer — in other words, being too aggressive in using surgery or radiation when a small amount of potentially slow-growing cancer is found on a biopsy.

The federal government has also become concerned about this issue. A large medical research trial called the Prostate Lung Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Study released results from 2009 showing no benefit from screening for prostate cancer when comparing a large group of unscreened men to a large group of aggressively screened men.

Researchers across the country are assessing the effects of the USPSTF recommendations on prostate cancer mortality since 2012. In a recent study from Northwestern University in Chicago, researchers found a significant increase in the cases of advanced prostate cancer already spread to other parts of the body from 2004 to 2013. As a result we could be missing serious cancers because of decreased screening.

Prostate cancer also has a hereditary predilection and men with a father, brother, cousin, or uncle should consider having screening around age 40.  This also applies to African-American men who have a greater risk of prostate cancer than Caucasian men and should also have testing after age 40.

My best advice is to ask your doctor\urologist about the decision to undergo prostate cancer screening.

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