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Prostate Cancer Screening: Benefits Outweigh Risks

Researchers Say Prostate Cancer Screening Nearly Halves Mortality Rate

PSA Test Not Perfect

This study follows another recent European study examining the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening. Known as the European Randomised Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer (ERSPC), it showed that during a shorter follow-up period of nine years a total of 1,410 men needed to be screened and 48 men had to be treated to save one life. That study also showed a 20% reduction in mortality over the course of a nine-year follow-up.

Prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death among men in the United States; every year, more than 28,000 men die from the disease and more than 203,000 men are diagnosed with the illness.

In an accompanying editorial, David E. Neal, at the University of Cambridge in England, says he’s cautiously optimistic about the results of this study. The findings, he writes, “show that in certain circumstances, PSA testing and early diagnosis reduces death from prostate cancer.” However, “it does not imply that PSA screening programs should now be introduced internationally.”

The next step, Neal writes, would be to do a better job at identifying men with intermediate and high-risk prostate cancers by looking at other markers that could improve the sensitivity and specificity of prostate cancer detection.

Jeffrey Karnes, MD, a urological surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., tells WebMD that “PSA is not perfect,” but can still “potentially be a life-saving test.”

“This is a timely article,” writes in an email. “As the full ERSPC [study] matures, I also believe that it will show greater reduction and fewer men diagnosed to save one life. As everyone knows, there can be a long lead time with PSA screening [because it] detects cancers many years before detectable or symptomatic, and there is still a risk of over-diagnosis, perhaps cancer would not have caused problems or death. Nonetheless, this new study demonstrates that PSA screening in a population can be effective and reduce prostate cancer death.”

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