On April 11th, TIME Health posted a story regarding prostate cancer screening that resonated with me all week. The article details findings of an influential government health task force regarding benefits and risks of prostate cancer screenings. The article concluded with the consensus that the benefits of the screening outweigh the risks.
“The new recommendation is a reversal from the one they issued in 2012, when the USPSTF advised most men to not get screened for prostate cancer using an inexpensive blood test, called a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. Based on the evidence they had available at that time, they concluded that the risks of screening—which include false positive results, over-treatment of slow-growing cancers and side effects from those treatments—outweighed the small benefits. But with more data on the subject, the task force now leans toward the benefits of screening.”
It can be challenging to know whether a man should be screened or treated for prostate cancer. It often develops so slowly that the cause of death is rarely the cancer itself. Rushing to treatment with invasive and toxic therapies like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation often exposes men to more side effects and harms.
“We had evidence in 2012 that suggested to us the benefits of screening did not outweigh the harms,” says Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the USPSTF and professor of medicine at University of California San Francisco. “That’s why we recommended against screening. With this update we have new evidence and our assessment of the balance shifted to now say there is likely a small net benefit to screening.”
The new data gathered came from two studies performed by the task force in Europe and the US. The European study, with over a decade of follow-up, found that men who recieved a blood test every two to four years lowered their risk of dying from prostate cancer by 20%. Even more encouraging were the results from men who were screened with 30% lower chance of developing metastic prostate cancer if the did develop the disease.
“These results give us confidence that we really have the full picture of the potential benefits of screening,” says Bibbins-Domingo.”
In the U.S. study, the health task force compared outcomes for men who were screened and decided not to immediately treat their cancer, a practice called active surveillance. Instead of subjecting themselves to the potential harms of biopsies and treatment, they instead worked with their doctors to receive more regular checkups and monitoring of their cancer and only started treatment if the tumors developed. Men who chose to do this did not die sooner than men who received immediate treatment, the study found. That’s good news, because in the U.S., more men are opting for active surveillance. Even if they were to get regular PSA screening, they wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to as many harms from treatment.
This revised advice isn’t a wholesale endorsement of PSA screening for all men. The health task force continues to stress that the decision to screen or not is an individual one, and one that each man should discuss with his doctor. “The most important thing is for doctors and patients together to have a conversation,” says Bibbins-Domingo, “so that men can make the best decision for themselves.”
About the Sapphire Foundation for Prostate Cancer
The Sapphire Foundation for Prostate Cancer is focused on helping men with prostate cancer that need financial assistance for medical expenditures and other financial needs while being treated for prostate cancer. We also hope to motivate men to get tested for the disease as early detection proves to be crucial in the treatment process. The foundation established in 2003 and has generated over $1,500,000 in donations and sponsorships to benefit programs related to the disease, for prostate cancer research and financial assistance for survivors of this disease.
The Sapphire Foundation for Prostate Cancer is a 501(c)(3) organization located at 3025 Sammy Davis Jr Drive, Ste. 130, Las Vegas, NV 89109. Phone 702-557-9450, email [email protected] or visit us on the web at www.SapphireProstateFoundation.org. If you are a cancer survivor and would like to request financial assistance please contact us.The foundation is always looking for sponsors since this helps them raise money, so ask about sponsorship.