Skipping Prostate Test Can Kill
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The same can be said of a controversial new finding that, on average, the simple blood test that detects prostate cancer does more harm than good. If you have undetected cancer, the average outcome is irrelevant. Skipping the test can kill you.
That logic seems lost on the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which recommended Monday that because of its findings, the PSA test should no longer be routinely given to men over 50, as it generally has been for the past two decades. Instead, men should be counseled first about the consequences of treatment for prostate cancer, with the obvious goal of deterring them from getting the test.
There's no disputing that treatment carries serious risks. Surgery and radiation, the most common treatments after a biopsy confirms cancer, can cause urinary incontinence and impotence. Both are usually temporary and treatable, but they're still complications no man would dismiss.
Nor is there any question that some men are treated more aggressively than necessary. Prostate cancer is often slow-growing, particularly in older men, and monitoring is a common option. But when people hear they have cancer, the natural reaction is, "Get it out." And doctors too often oblige, even when "watchful waiting" would be a smarter course.
The more significant consideration, though, is that all those factors come into play long after the PSA test, if at all. The only risks from the test itself are stress and the discomfort and rare complications of the subsequent biopsy.
So aren't patients better advised to get the facts first and then the counseling if needed, rather than being discouraged from finding out whether they have cancer in the first place? The task force's approach seems based on the theory that what you don't know can't hurt you. Well, it can.
For now, the effect of the task force's decision is minimal. It did not suggest that men should be deprived of the test, and urologists loudly objected to the recommendation, so presumably many will ignore it. But the task force's advisories influence insurance coverage, which could some day exclude the test -- an outcome that would fit the task force's goals.
Source: USA Today
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