To PSA or not to PSA?

The United States Preventive Services Task Force has recommended against routine PSA tests for prostate cancer screening. This is noted as a "Level D" recommendation, meaning that "There is moderate or high certainty that the service has no net benefit or that harms outweigh the benefits." You can read the task force draft report by clicking here. The official recommendation will be published next week.

A PSA (prostate specific antigen) testis commonly utilized in conjunction with a digital rectal exam for screening of prostate cancer in men 50 years or older. If the PSA level is high or is rising in relation to prior tests, a biopsy of the prostate is usually recommended. It is thought that over diagnosis occurs in many men who have a slow-growing tumor that will not be the cause of death. In terms of potential harm, the task force cites the research indicating that false positive results can lead to psychological distress, and that risk of biopsies such as infection, fever, bleeding, or transient urinary issues is moderate.

The New York Times published an article recently addressing this issue. Highlighted in this article is the fact that the panel who recommended against PSA testing is the same panel who advised against routine mammograms, creating quite a controversy. Will the advice against routine PSA testing be met with as much disagreement? The disease is reported to be rare in men under age 50, and with most deaths from prostate cancer occurring in men over age 75. Even so, many men credit the PSA test as having "saved their life." It remains to be seen how insurance providers, medical practitioners, and patients will respond to the advisement against PSA testing.

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