Prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in American men. It is also the second leading cause of men’s cancer deaths.
With this data, some would presume that a screening test for this disease would be a medical accomplishment; however it hasn’t been that simple.
According to the chief medical correspondent for CBS News, a screening test for prostate cancer is actually one of the most controversial areas in medicine.
The prostate cancer test, also known as the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test that looks for a specific protein only produced by the prostate. The higher the levels of PSA, the more likely the person has prostate cancer.
If the levels of PSA are high, the patient is often recommended to have a biopsy taken from their prostate. The biopsy involves inserting 12 needles into the prostate using an ultrasound and taking a random sampling of tissue.
Before the PSA, a diagnosis of prostate cancer was often a death sentence. Now 16% of mean are diagnosed, but only 3% of those diagnosed succumb to the disease.
Although the PSA is a blessing, it is extremely problematic. A majority of tumors are not significant enough to warrant treatment. One study demonstrates that around 40% of patients who test positive for prostate cancer, have a disease that is too slow-growing to be deadly. The biopsies, radiation, surgery and other treatments can cause serious side effects and sometimes not even be necessary. In this case, it would almost be best to leave the cancer undiagnosed.
For this exact reason, a panel of experts advised the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force against healthy, symptom-free men of any age getting the PSA test in May 2012. Previously only men over the age of 75 were advised not to get the test.
Some experts suggest that doctors need to “screen smarter.” These experts say that a PSA test should be followed up by a second PSA test and an MRI if the first test has positive results. The MRI would be able to guide doctors to get more accurate biopsies.
The current goal for the scientific community is to identify those cancers that need to be diagnosed and need to be treated as opposed to all of those insignificant cancers.