Just as the mammogram has become a common screening test for breast cancer, the PSA blood test is being used widely to screen for prostate cancer. Changes in PSA levels can help physicians determine if there is a likelihood of prostate cancer. The problem, however, is that this test does not discriminate between very slow-growing tumors that are unlikely to cause harm and more aggressive cancer that could potentially kill a man. As a result, a great many men have been subjected to unnecessary biopsies. Many have been diagnosed and treated for low-risk cancers of the prostate.
A new study analyzed data from nearly 124,000 men diagnosed between 2004 and 2006. Among men with low-risk tumors, three-fourths of the younger men and two-thirds of those over 65 received aggressive treatment for their prostate cancers. This leads to needless expense and side effects of the treatment, usually surgery or radiation. The scientists note that a much better test is needed to help doctors determine whether a specific prostate tumor is dangerous or not.
[Archives of Internal Medicine, July 26, 2010]