Prostate Cancer, Should Men be Screened?

A great article for those wondering about the value of prostate screening. This article was posted by by Diane Walker, RN, MS, CSA on Fri, Sep 28, 2012

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, which is a good reason to bring up an important health topic that many men shy away from. Prostate cancer screening is in the news a lot, and you may have heard a little about the debate over whether screening for prostate cancer using the PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) test is a good idea. What exactly is going on, and more importantly, should you get screened for prostate cancer?

Unraveling the Debate

It seems like a no-brainer: get screened for a disease, and you raise your chances of stopping it before it gets serious. But it turns out screening isn’t that simple. Medical experts have differing opinions about whether or not prostate cancer screening is appropriate for all men.

Some medical experts believe that medical research shows that finding and treating prostate cancer early may save lives. They recommend that any man with at least a 10-year life expectancy be screened.

Other medical experts believe that the test does more harm than good. They do not believe there is sufficient evidence to support the recommendation that detecting prostate cancer early actually saves lives. Most prostate cancers are very slow-growing and never affect a man’s health. In fact, many men die with prostate cancer that has never affected them. Because the test can’t differentiate between harmful cancers and those that will never affect the person, many men who get the test are treated for cancer unnecessarily. Another concern is that the treatment may have very serious side effects, such as impotence and incontinence.

Because of these drawbacks, some medical experts don’t believe the potential benefits of screening outweigh the known side effects of treatment.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an organization that makes recommendations for doctors based on reviews of all the available evidence, does not recommend that men of any age get a PSA test for prostate cancer screening. Organizations such as the CDC follow the USPSTF’s recommendation.

Prostate Cancer Screening for Seniors

The organizations that recommend against prostate cancer screening believe that there is even less evidence to support men age 75 and over getting PSA tests. They believe that since most prostate cancers are slow-growing, the majority of men over age 75 will not gain extra years by being tested and treated for prostate cancer. Instead, they will be harmed by the treatments. Some doctors are now beginning to believe that seniors should not be screened for other types of cancer as well.

Deciding whether to be screened for prostate cancer is a personal decision that can be affected by a variety of individual factors. For example, medical experts are in agreement that men who are experiencing symptoms of prostate cancer such as difficulty urinating, or blood in the urine should be tested for prostate cancer. Until there are more definitive findings about testing and treatment, men should speak to their doctors to decide what the best course of action is for them on an individual basis.