With cancer taking the second place spot among leading causes of death in the United States, healthcare specialists and patients alike have massively increased their attention to preventative methods over the last few years.
Prostate Cancer Screening
For fearers of prostate cancer, a disease that kills 30,000 men in the U.S. each year, one of the best preventative measures is getting regularly tested or screened. In the case of prostate cancer, methods of determining the presence of malignant cells include symptoms (pain, trouble urinating, issues pertaining to intercourse, and erectile dysfunction), biopsy, digital rectal examinations, and testing of PSA levels (prostate-specific antigen), which are heightened in men with prostate cancer.
Is It Effective?
Recent controversy has developed around prostate cancer screening, especially in the cases of men who do not exhibit symptoms. In fact, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (or USPSTF) criticizes the practice of screening healthy individuals, as the risks and expenses of annual tests may not be entirely worth it.
Risks differ between prostate-specific antigen testing and preventative screenings.
In the case of prostate-specific antigen testing, the more controversial of the two, the dangers relate to over-diagnosis, which can occur quite easily due to the slow-moving and often benign nature of prostate cancer.
In addition, the USPSTF advises against preventative screenings on the basis that they are ineffective. This testimony is based on a study by the BMJ Group medical journal, which concluded that just as many men would die of prostate cancer from the group that received screenings as would die of prostate cancer from the group that did not. The study further determined that 20 men from the group that underwent screenings would be treated unnecessarily, as prostate cancer develops so slowly, it often causes no symptoms during a lifetime and remains unthreatening.
The main problem with screening, particularly with the PSA method, is that while the test can detect elevated levels of PSA in the blood stream (an indicator of the disease’s presence), it cannot detect how the disease has progressed or will progress in the future. This can result in overtreatment.
Of course, these kinds of reports vary as frequently as every day, but these statistics do mean one thing for urologists worldwide: it’s time to develop a more effective test for this life-threatening disease.