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Prostate Cancer Screening (PDQ®): Screening - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Evidence of Harms


The U.S. cohort study explored the association between prostate cancer diagnosis and CVD mortality or suicide in men diagnosed with prostate cancer compared with population-level expected rates during three different time periods (pre-PSA, peri-PSA, and post-PSA). For CVD mortality, the standardized mortality ratio (SMR) was elevated for men diagnosed with prostate cancer in the first month after diagnosis in all time periods (overall SMR = 2.05; 95% CI, 1.89–2.22), but decreased in later months during the first year (decreasing to < 1.0 in the PSA time period). This association was not changed to an important degree by age, race, or tumor grade. SMRs were higher for nonmarried men, for men who lived in lower educational status or higher poverty counties, and for men with metastatic disease at diagnosis. Also, in the first 3 months after diagnosis, the SMR for suicide was higher in men with prostate cancer (SMR = 1.9; 95% CI, 1.4–2.6). In months 4 to 12, the SMR was lower but still greater than 1.0. The SMR for suicide, however, was only greater than 1.0 in the pre-PSA and peri-PSA time periods, but not in the post-PSA time period. SMR was higher for nonmarried men but did not vary by education or poverty.[3]

These data lend credence to the concern that overdiagnosis of prostate cancer due to screening could lead to an increased risk of CVD mortality or suicide.

While there is no literature suggesting serious complications of digital rectal examination (DRE) or transrectal sonography, and the harms associated with venipuncture for PSA testing can be regarded as trivial, prostatic biopsies are associated with important complications. Transient fever, pain, hematospermia, and hematuria are all common, as are positive urine cultures.[4,5,6] Sepsis occurs in approximately 0.4% of cases.[5]

Long-term complications of radical prostatectomy include urinary incontinence, urethral stricture, erectile dysfunction, and the morbidity associated with general anesthesia and a major surgical procedure. Fecal incontinence can also occur. The associated mortality rate is reported to be 0.1% to 1%, depending on age. In the population-based Prostate Cancer Outcomes Study, 8.4% of 1,291 men were incontinent and 59.9% were impotent at 18 or 24 months following radical prostatectomy. More than 40% of men reported that their sexual performance was a moderate-to-large problem. Both sexual and urinary function varied by age, with younger men relatively less affected.[7]

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