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Prostate Cancer Screening Questioned

Government Panel Says Benefits Uncertain
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Even if PSA levels are found to be higher than normal, Brooks says it is very often due to something other than cancer, such as benign prostate enlargement. Even so, he says those results may still cause unnecessary anxiety for many men.

"Once you do a prostate cancer screening, decisions have to be made about treatments that can have some very untoward side effects," says Brooks.

He says a significant percentage of men who undergo prostate cancer treatment suffer from urinary and bowl incontinence as well as erectile dysfunction.

"So, when you go back to fact that some men have prostate cancers that will never cause them any harm and now you offer treatments that have unpleasant side effects, men need to understand that going in," says Brooks. "Men should talk about the benefits and limitations and understand the pros and cons to make an informed decision."

Brooks says the report's findings now put the task force largely in line with the recommendations of other major medical organizations, including the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American Urological Association. The last time the task force looked at prostate cancer screening in 1996, it recommended against it.

Those organizations and others currently recommend that doctors offer annual prostate cancer screening to men over 50 and discuss the potential risks and benefits.

"Men with a life expectancy of fewer than 10 years are unlikely to benefit from screening even under favorable assumptions," write the authors of the report, Russell Harris, MD, MPH, and Kathleen N. Lohr, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Research Triangle Institute.

Although not endorsed by the report, ACS also recommends annual screening for men over age 45 who are at high risk for prostate cancer -- African-Americans or men with a brother or father who had prostate cancer.

While there is some indication that some dietary factors may affect the risk of developing prostate cancer, Brooks says those claims have not yet been proven and several studies are currently investigating new prevention strategies for prostate cancer.

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