Posted: May 18th, 2010 by Militant Libertarian
Routing screening for levels of the prostate specific antigen (PSA), a marker of prostate inflammation and a presumed prostate cancer risk factor, is not yet recommended in the European Union. The European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer, currently underway in seven countries, is intended to gather research into whether the practice should be adopted.
Recent data from the study suggested that regular screening could reduce the disease’s death rate by 20 percent. The most recent data from the Finnish part of the study is now raising questions as to the wider cost of that improved survival rate.
“While the European trial, of which this Finnish study is a part, showed for the first time that prostate screening with PSA can save lives, it also suggested that 48 men would have to be treated in order to save one life,” said Julietta Patnick of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.
Prostate cancer screening has become increasingly controversial due to emerging evidence that the majority of prostate cancers are so slow growing that many men will die of other causes without ever suffering any symptoms. This has raised questions as to how many men are being over-treated with therapies that can carry serious side effects, including impotence and incontinence.
The new study suggests another problem: even with a relatively high PSA threshold, one in eight men screened in the study received a false positive result. Further complicating matters, the researchers found that men who had been falsely diagnosed became significantly less likely to undergo future screening, even though they are at higher risk of developing the disease.
“I don’t think routine screening should be advised until more is known on the adverse effects and costs of screening,” lead researcher Tuomas Kilpelainen said. “If a man has urinary tract symptoms and is concerned he could have prostate cancer, the most important thing is to consult a GP or a urologist.”