The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has once again stirred up a hornet’s net of controversy. Several years ago the Task Force recommended against routine mammograms for women under 50. Now it has turned its attention to the men and suggested that routine prostate cancer screening with PSA is not beneficial.
About 50 percent of men between 65 and 79 get routine measurements of their PSA or prostate specific antigen. When this number rises, it can signify prostate cancer. But it can also give a false signal roughly 80 percent of the time. That means many men will worry unnecessarily and have prostate biopsies as a result of this screening test. While biopsies can help diagnose cancer, they are not without risk. What’s more, it is difficult for doctors to distinguish between aggressive cancers that will lead to death and prostate cancers that will never cause problems.
Not surprisingly, many urologists are outraged at the Preventive Services Task Force recommendation. The head of the American Urological Association has called the recommendation “a great disservice to men who may benefit from the PSA test.” Leaders of the American Cancer Society, on the other hand, point out that PSA testing does not seem to save lives. Millions of men are caught in the middle of this firestorm.