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    USPSTF Says “No” to PSA Screening

    [Richard M. Hoffman, MD, MPH, is a general internist, Professor of Medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a staff physician at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center. He also serves as Interim Director for Cancer Prevention at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center. His areas of research interest are prostate and colorectal cancer screening and prostate cancer treatment outcomes, with expertise in clinical epidemiology, health services research, and meta-analysis. He is a medical editor for prostate cancer topics for the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making and works with the Foundation to develop shared decision making tools for prostate cancer screening and treatment of localized prostate cancer.]

    Once again, the United States Preventive Services Task Force seems headed for a storm of controversy. The Task Force concluded that screening should be discouraged because it has no net benefit or the harms outweigh the benefits.

    Not even two years ago, the Task Force's recommendation against routinely performing mammography in average-risk women before age 50 outraged professional organizations, advocacy groups, celebrities, politicians, and many other vocal critics. Unfortunately, the somewhat awkward message was distorted to imply that these women should never undergo mammography. In fact, the Task Force was highlighting that mammography for these women involved important trade-offs between potential benefits and harms--and that women needed to make informed, personalized decisions. This is an appropriate message.

    However, the new recommendation on prostate cancer seems troubling. In 2008, the Task Force gave prostate cancer screening an "I" rating because the available evidence was considered insufficient to recommend for or against screening--largely because there were no valid data from randomized controlled trials of screening. The Task Force suggested that men be informed about the risks and benefits of screening, though strongly advised against screening men age 75 and older.

    In 2009, long-awaited results from the major randomized controlled trials were published. The European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer (ERSPC) found that screening reduced prostate cancer mortality by 20%. In contrast, the American Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial (PLCO) found no benefit with screening. However, evaluating PSA in America was challenging because screening was so pervasive that investigators had difficulty enrolling men who had never been screened--or preventing screening in the control group. The validity of the negative PLCO results is uncertain. The ERSPC study was more credible, but showed only a small absolute survival benefit. This benefit must be balanced against the harms of overdiagnosis--finding cancers that would never cause clinical problems during a man's lifetime--and the resulting overtreatment, which can lead to urinary, bowel, and sexual dysfunction.

    Unfortunately, we cannot confidently identify the "overdiagnosed" cancers found with screening, so most men will undergo surgery or radiation therapy. A new strategy of active surveillance might mitigate the harms of overdiagnosis. With this option, men are closely monitored with PSA tests, digital rectal examinations, and biopsies--and will be offered surgery or radiation only if the cancer shows signs of being aggressive.

    Ideally, men should be making an informed decision that best reflects their values for the potential downstream consequences of screening. This is indeed the conclusion (based on similar clinical data) that the Task Force reached regarding mammography for women before age 50. The Task Force classified this as a grade "C" recommendation--which is what I expected for prostate cancer screening.

    USPSTF's grading system Only registered and activated users can see links., Click Here To Register...

    Source: HealthNewsReview
    Gregory D. Pawelski

    To screen or not to screen for prostate cancer

    By: Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., Deputy Chief Medical Officer, American Cancer Society

    A report from the venerable United States Preventive Services Task Force made it to the media yesterday–a bit ahead of schedule–and it not only says we aren’t certain whether a man should get a PSA test to find prostate cancer early, it came flat out and proposed, effectively, “Don’t do it!”

    That proposed recommendation that is going to create a good deal of discussion, I would think.

    Whether PSA testing to find prostate cancer early really saves lives is not certain. The test has been around for over two decades, but it wasn’t until recently that there were any scientific studies that could provide evidence whether or not the test actually worked. And those two studies produced conflicting results, or so it seemed.

    One study done in several European countries found that PSA screening reduced deaths from prostate cancer by about 20%. Another study done in the United States concluded that PSA screening did no such thing. In fact, in the US study, the deaths from prostate cancer were greater during the period of the study in men who were screened vs. those who were not, but that difference was not found to be statistically significant.

    Basically, what has happened is that the Task Force reviewed all of the evidence as to whether or not PSA screening decreased death rates from prostate cancer, and whether or not the harms from early diagnosis and treatment outweighed the benefits.

    In reviewing the available studies, they found studies that tried to answer the question, but didn’t find any that were really well done. So they had to rely on a lesser level of evidence, and among that evidence were the two studies noted above.

    In the European study, they pointed out that for ALL of the men included in the study, ages 50-74, there was no reduction in deaths in the group with PSA testing. They also pointed out that the European study was in fact a “compilation” of trials in several centers in several countries, and that the frequency of PSA testing differed considerably from center to center (every 2-7 years, not every year as is commonly done in the United States).

    The USPSTF researchers also pointed out that the group where the reduced death rates were found was in fact a “select” group of men ages 55-69. Furthermore, not all men in that study were treated equally: men who were in the “PSA testing arm” were treated in academic centers, where they would have arguably received better care, compared to the untested control group who were treated in community hospitals.

    Another wrinkle was highlighted by the researchers who pointed out that one of the Swedish centers that participated in the trial had exceptionally good results (in fact the only center in the study that had such great results). Take that center out of the analysis, and voila! the benefits of screening in the European study miraculously vanishes.

    Then there was the United States study, were many of the men in the “untested” control arm had PSA tests anyway, thus making the results of “no benefit” less than clear cut.

    I could go on, but I think you can begin to understand the dilemmas all of us have faced in trying to figure out whether or not PSA testing really works. And let’s not ignore the question of what happens to men after they receive treatment for their prostate cancer, problems that are not insignificant such as incontinence of urine, difficulty with bowel movements, impotence and more. These are not minor issues.

    So here is a test that has strong advocates, not the least of whom are the truly well-meaning men and their loved ones, friends and colleagues who truly believe that PSA testing saved their lives. And not a few of those men are in positions of influence, including a number of Congressmen and Senators, senior executives, celebrities, you name it. They were told that PSA testing saved their lives and I would expect they would take that advice to heart. Hear it often enough, and you believe it.

    But just saying something often enough, loud enough and clear enough does not make it so. Just ask the women who took all those hormones for all those years, and all those doctors who thought they were doing the right thing for their patients by prescribing those medications. They too thought hormones were good for their health, until the evidence proved it wasn’t so. (Hormone therapy remains a useful treatment, but only with a clear understanding of the risks and benefits of those treatments.)

    So, now the horns of the dilemma. The Task Force is now on record as proposing a recommendation that men NOT get PSA testing. They conclude there is no real proof of benefit, and real proof of harms. Too many men go through too many treatments with too many long -lasting complications without a clear expectation that it will save their lives.

    That’s pretty radical, and is certain to raise a firestorm of criticism among those who believe that PSA testing saves lives.

    The American Cancer Society went through the same evidence a couple of years ago and had the same discussions. We elected to say to men that we did not know whether or not PSA testing saved lives, but thought the best approach was for men and their health professionals to have a clear discussion, outlining the benefits and risks before embarking on a program of PSA testing. And that remains our recommendation today.

    But I will say that even then, the evidence of benefit from PSA screening was certainly not overwhelming, if it existed at all. We knew then about the issues with the United States trial; there were whispers about some problems with the European study that are now more clearly discussed in the Task Force report. But the bottom line remains for both organizations that the evidence is not firm that the test makes a real difference.

    After all this, you know what really gets me upset?

    We have invested over 20 years of belief that PSA testing works. Catch it early, treat it early, and get it out. Save a life. That’s the mantra many of us–including me, as a practicing physician–believed. And here we are all of these years later, and we don’t know for sure. That is not an acceptable situation. Plain and simple, we have not done our homework to prove our point. And the chickens are coming home to roost.

    Unfortunately, those “chickens” are men like me who dutifully get our blood tested every year. We have been poked and probed, we have been operated on by doctors and robots, we have been radiated with fancy machines, we have spent literally billions of dollars. And what do we have? A mess of false hope?

    Back in the early part of this decade, researchers came to the conclusion that although there were some benefits to hormone therapies for post-menopausal women, there were more harms that outweighed their routine use. Almost a decade later, there has been a significant decline in hormone usage, we are more aware of the risks, we counsel our patients carefully about the use of these medicines, and we recommend the lowest dose for the shortest period of time.

    Now we are about to face similar issues with prostate cancer screening. We will argue, we will refute the other persons science, yet I suspect we will come to an understanding that just because experts, doctors and grateful patients and their families say it often enough and loud enough does not make it so.

    As someone reminded me recently, anecdote is not a form of evidence. And for PSA screening, unfortunately, according to the Preventive Services Task Force, the evidence just isn’t there.

    It’s always hard to learn that the emperor in fact has no clothes. The sad reality, however, is that this debate is not about a fairly tale. It’s real life, my friends. And people have been hurt, and doctors have been deceived. At least, that’s what the Task Force is saying.

    Maybe it’s time to listen to evidence instead of hope. Sometimes that’s hard to do.
    Gregory D. Pawelski


      Recommendation Against Routine PSA Screening in US

      Zosia Chustecka
      Medscape Medical News

      October 7, 2011 — Routine screening for prostate cancer using the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test will no longer be recommended in the United States, where it is currently used more than in any other country in the world, according to a draft recommendation. The draft recommendation against routine screening with the PSA test comes from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

      The USPSTF already recommends against routine PSA screening in men older than 75 years. In the new draft recommendation, it extends this to all men. It now recommends against routine screening in men younger than 75 years, giving this a "D" rating, which means there is moderate or high certainty that the service has no benefit or that the harms outweigh the benefits.

      Based on Reviews of Trials

      The recommended change is based on a review of 5 randomized trials of screening and 3 trials and 23 cohort studies of treatments. Included in the review were the 2 largest trials of PSA screening, which reported conflicting results, the USPSTF notes. The European study found a reduction in mortality after 9 years of screening, but the American trial, which had high crossover and contamination rates, found no reduction in mortality after 10 years of screening.

      The review also noted that treatment for prostate cancer, such as prostatectomy and radiation, is associated with risks for problems such as erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and bowel dysfunction.

      The USPTSF concluded that after about 10 years, PSA-based screening results in small or no reduction in prostate-cancer-specific mortality and is associated with harms related to subsequent evaluation and treatments, some of which may be unnecessary.

      Delay in Announcement

      This recommendation has been a long time coming, according to reports in the October 7 issue of the Cancer Letter and in the New York Times magazine. They assert that the timing of the release of this recommendation was influenced by political considerations. According to these reports, the task force first voted to recommend against routine PSA screening back in November 2009, but this caused a violent political firestorm, and subsequent follow-up meetings were cancelled. The final vote was taken in March. After this, a paper summarizing the recommendation was submitted to the Annals of Internal Medicine, where is it expected to appear.

      PSA Test is Not Specific

      The main problems with the PSA test are that it is not specific for prostate cancer and it cannot differentiate between aggressive and indolent forms of the disease.

      "It cannot distinguish cancer that will never make a difference in a man's lifetime from cancers that will make a difference," so might prompt men to undergo aggressive treatment unnecessarily, Virginia Moyer, MD, MPH, chair of the USPTSF panel that made the recommendation, stated in an interview with Bloomberg News. "So you go from being a guy who feels fine and who is potentially one of the majority who would never have known they had this disease, to being a guy who wears adult diapers," she said. Dr. Moyer is a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

      The PSA test is "hardly more effective than a coin toss," said Richard Ablin, PhD, research professor of pathology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson. Dr. Ablin discovered PSA in 1970. Using this test to screen for prostate cancer in the general population has been a "hugely expensive public health disaster," he wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times.

      "Drug companies continue peddling the tests, and advocacy groups push prostate cancer awareness by encouraging men to get screened," he wrote. "The medical community must confront reality and stop the inappropriate use of PSA screening," he stated. "Doing so would save billions of dollars and rescue millions of men from unnecessary, debilitating treatment."

      Although PSA testing is recognized as being imperfect, it is the only test for prostate cancer that is widely available, and it does provide information that can be useful, proponents point out. One of the professional bodies that has long supported the use of the test, the AUA, emphasizes that it should not be used on its own, but needs to be combined with other information (such as family history).

      The AUA issued a statement in reaction to the new USPSTF recommendations: "We are concerned that the Task Force's recommendation will ultimately do more harm than good to the many men at risk for prostate cancer, both here in the United States and around the world."

      "The AUA's current clinical recommendations support use of the PSA test, and it is our feeling that, when interpreted appropriately, the PSA test provides important information in the diagnosis, pretreatment staging or risk assessment, and post-treatment monitoring of prostate cancer patients," according to the statement.

      "Not all prostate cancers require active treatment and not all prostate cancers are life-threatening," the statement points out, and the decision of whether to proceed to active treatment or whether surveillance is an option needs to be discussed in detail with the patient.

      The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality supported this study. Author disclosure information is available on the Annals of Internal Medicine Web site.

      Ann Intern Med. Published online October 7, 2011.

      Zosia Chustecka is news editor for Medscape Hematology-Oncology and prior news editor of, a Web site acquired by WebMD. A veteran medical journalist based in London, UK, she has won a prize from the British Medical Journalists Association and is a pharmacology graduate. She has written for a wide variety of publications aimed at the medical and related health professions.
      Gregory D. Pawelski


        Here are a few facts

        [Merrill Goozner occasionally writes for the Journal of the National Cancer Insitute.]

        Over a ten-year period, about 15 to 20 percent of men receiving routine PSA tests will be sent for biopsies because of elevated PSA values;

        Yet elevated PSA values are not specific to cancer; 80 percent of the men sent for biopsies will not have cancer;

        About one in 24 men sent for biopsies will wind up being hospitalized with complications from the procedure within a month;

        About 90 percent of all prostate tumors successfully identified by the biopsies will not be metastatic, but will be localized, which makes them prime candidates for “watchful waiting,” not aggressive treatment;

        Yet 75 percent of those identified with cancer will wind up receiving either radiation, or surgery, or both;

        Five out of every 1,000 men who have prostate cancer surgically removed will die within 30 days of complications of the operation;

        Ten to 70 of 1,000 men who receive surgery will have serious complications, including heart attacks and strokes;

        Anywhere from 200 to 300 of those 1,000 men who receive aggressive treatment for prostate cancer (radiation or surgery) will become either incontinent or impotent or both;

        In the European trial, which showed benefit from PSA testing while the U.S. trial did not, there needed to be 48 men screened every year for ten years to save one person from dying from prostate cancer.

        To sum up, treat 1,000 men identified with prostate cancer and 200 to 300 will become impotent or incontinent; among those who get surgery, five will die from operation complications, and 10 to 70 will have heart attacks, strokes or other serious adverse events. That compares to about 20 lives not lost to prostate cancer for every 1,000 men treated, if I’m doing the math right.

        For those of us who follow medicine closely, we understand science drives these studies, just as science drives the decision-making process at USPSTF. But its parent agency, AHRQ, does itself no favors when it explains these scientific decisions late on a Friday afternoon, a week after the announcement, and gives the press and public no chance to ask questions.
        Gregory D. Pawelski


          New England Journal of Medicine pieces on prostate cancer screening

          The New England Journal of Medicine has four perspective pieces on the new US Preventive Services Task Force's prostate cancer screening recommendations:

          One, on "what the USPSTF left out," states:

          "Although the USPSTF explicitly does not consider costs, policymakers cannot ignore economic aspects of screening. Using data from the European screening trial, researchers have estimated that $5.2 million would have to be spent on screening (and the interventions that follow it) to prevent one death from prostate cancer. That estimate does not appear to include the costs of excessive serial PSA testing and repeated office-based encounters devoted to discussions about screening or interpretation of fluctuating PSA results. The extraordinary time, effort, and costs associated with the PSA-screening enterprise must be evaluated against other claims on health care spending and physicians' time and energy. We believe that the current PSA-based screening paradigm does not compare favorably with competing health care priorities."

          Only registered and activated users can see links., Click Here To Register...

          Another, by Drs. Michael Barry and Mary McNaughton-Collins of the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making,argues for a grade C recommendation rather than the grade D recommendation the Task Force supports:

          "A grade C recommendation would allow the patient to be involved in the decision to skip or choose a PSA screening test, after a discussion with a primary care provider about the magnitude of the known harms and the potential for some benefit. The patient could then provide his perspective on how he views the trade-off. Weighing the pros and cons to make a decision about PSA screening is an individual process, and different well-informed men will make different decisions. A grade D recommendation removes the patient from the equation and puts the physician in the central position of discouraging use of the test. Uncertainty in medicine is more common than we usually let on, and the way to address uncertainty is to allow patients the central position in decision making. A grade C recommendation would acknowledge that whereas the evidence shows that the harms may outweigh the benefits on a population level, some individual patients will still elect PSA screening. We do not believe that anyone but the patient should decide whether the small and uncertain benefits of PSA screening are worth it.

          To make a grade C recommendation appropriate, we primary care clinicians must ensure there is no more routine, indiscriminate PSA screening -- and no washing our hands of responsibility once the patient is referred to a specialist for prostate-cancer treatment. We owe it to our patients to provide them with the kind of guidance about this screening test that they need and deserve. That's the way to help put the controversy to rest . . . one man at a time."

          Only registered and activated users can see links., Click Here To Register...

          A third piece recommended:

          "PSA screening should not be dismissed as uniformly nonbeneficial. Rather, decisions about screening should be made on an individual basis, by an informed patient and his clinician, after weighing that patient's particular risk factors."

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          The fourth piece "begins with a case vignette highlighting a common clinical problem. Evidence supporting various strategies is then presented, followed by a review of formal guidelines, when they exist. The article ends with the author's clinical recommendations."

          Only registered and activated users can see links., Click Here To Register...

          Thanks to Gary Schwitzer at HealthNewsReview
          Gregory D. Pawelski


            MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome): Radiation can be a causal factor in this disease

            MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome) is characterized by an excess of blasts in the Bone Marrow 5-20%. The ONLY difference between MDS and leukemia is that the term "leukemia" is only used when the number of blasts reaches 20% or more.

            Radiation can be a causal factor in this disease, as well as age. My brother-in-law (70 at the time) developed MDS after being treated for local prostate cancer with radiation pellets (brachytherapy). Treatment-related MDS or secondary MDS is often more severe and difficult to treat than de novo MDS (unknown changes to the bone marrow).

            You don’t have to receive chemotherapy and/or radiation to get this disease. Simple aging is enough. When we are exposed to enough radiation through natural means to disrupt our DNA or, perhaps our DNA just falls apart on its own. Most patients with myelodysplasia who have not received anti-cancer treatment are in their 70’s and 80’s.

            There are different varieties of this disease and doctors can distinguish them by looking at the appearance of the bone marrow cells as well as testing their DNA for mutations. People with the most peculiar cells have the shortest life span after diagnosis, about a year or two, although a few can last as long as ten years. Others with good-looking cells can live anywhere from five to fifteen years or even longer. The same holds for genetic changes. Certain ones are associated with very short survivals and others, with much longer life spans.

            I guess my brother-in-law had the most peculiar cells, he died a short time afterwards.

            When people die from this, it is usually because they can’t make enough infection fighting cells and get overwhelming infections such as pneumonia. Or, they develop acute leukemia. This type of leukemia that develops in people with myelodysplasia is virtually untreatable – different from other kinds of leukemia. Also, remember that the patients are generally elderly so that they can’t handle aggressive treatment or the stress of not enough blood cells.

            Is it cancer? Most cancer specialists do, according to Dr. Herman Kattlove, a retired medical oncologist. For seven years, he was a medical editor for the American Cancer Society where he helped develop much of the information about specific cancers that is posted on the society's website.

            I lost my brother-in-law (my wife's brother) to MDS after he received permanent seed implants for "early" prostate cancer treatment. Urologists can hardly hold themselves back and are out with all sorts of treatments. Sometimes, while a life may be saved, a life may be taken. I have experienced for the second time in my life, the issue. It does happen, but no one emphasizes that point. I will.
            Gregory D. Pawelski


              About the Gleason score

              In many cases, men with a high Gleason score have not seen their cancer spread while men with a low Gleason score have.

              This is why the Preventive Services task force no longer recommends the PSA test followed by a biopsy to check the Gleason score.

              The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) issues guidelines for staging cancer (predicting if it will spread and how quickly).

              What scientists, who are looking at medical evidence, say about Gleason scores tell us: Although the Gleason score is the standard grading system, studies have found problems with interobserver variability of this score. Aggregating scores into the 3 categories of well, moderate, and poor differentiation improves reliability.

              Another problem is the agreement between Gleason scores based on biopsy specimens and scores based on larger amounts of tumor on surgical pathology specimens. One study found 74% agreement within a Gleason score of ± 1 between prostatectomy and biopsy specimens. The number of specimens overgraded and undergraded was similar.

              If an asymptomatic man is told he has a Gleason score of 8, and on that basis, goes ahead with surgery, there is a 1 in 200 chance that he will die of complications from that surgery. The odds that a man experiencing no symptoms will die of prostate cancer are much lower.

              If he undergoes radiation treatment the odds that he will wind up impotent or incontinent are much, much higher than the odds that he will die of prostate cancer.

              But once he is told his Gleason score and told that according to the AJCC - this is the single most important predictor - and is not told that Gleason scores are not terribly reliable, have serious "limitations" and in many cases the Gleason score "overgrades" the cancer, the patient who is told his Gleason score is high is likely to feel that he must go ahead with treatment.

              Psychologically, it is very difficult for many men to choose "watchful waiting" even though the medical evidence says that this is the prudent course.
              The is why even the American Cancer Society (ACS) no longer recommends routine PSA testing and biopsy - to discover Gleason score.

              Instead the ACS says that a physician should describe the risks of PSA testing, as well as possible benefits, going through all of the medical evidence with the patient in a process called "shared" decision-making and then let the patient decide.

              But the doctor should not recommend the PSA test and the biopsy that follows.

              From the medical journal Radiology:

              "Our ability to predict biologic aggressiveness of tumors is still based on the histologic appearance of prostate cancer as assessed with the Gleason grading system, which has substantial limitations."

              Thanks to Maggie Mahar at HealthBeatNews
              Gregory D. Pawelski


                Prostate cancer screening may do more harm than good

                By Dr. Otis Brawley
                Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the American Cancer Society and Professor at Emory University

                The recent news that a group of highly respected medical experts, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, is considering advising against routine prostate cancer screening shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise to anybody.

                Indeed, the fact that so many people now are claiming to be surprised is an interesting story.

                Many respected organizations that issue screening guidelines have for a long time expressed concern about the effectiveness and known risks of screening for prostate cancer.

                The list of groups that have expressed caution about widespread use of the prostate-specific antigen test, known as PSA, includes the American Urological Association, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the European Urology Association and the American Cancer Society.

                Here is the problem in a nutshell: Widespread PSA screening began 20 years ago, amazingly, well before anyone bothered to initiate studies to find out whether such screening saves lives.

                Because doctors and patients believed that screening works — wasn't it obvious that it would? — they opposed rigorous studies, called randomized trials, that assign half the patients to get screening while the other half goes unscreened.

                Despite opposition from doctors and patients, the trials finally got done, and today the harms of screening are better proved than the benefits. A substantial number of men receive unnecessary treatment, as their cancers are so slow-growing they are not life-threatening. These treatments commonly lead to harms such as impotence and incontinence and can even lead to premature death. This, while the benefits -- the number of lives saved -- are very small at best, nonexistent at worst.

                Alas, the history of medicine is filled with examples of physicians jumping the gun, acting in a manner unsupported by evidence, even ignoring the words of caution in the "evidence-based guidelines" promulgated by their own professional societies.

                I am convinced that most advocates of screening and aggressive treatment are motivated by genuine desire to benefit men. Unfortunately, they are uninformed or unwilling to believe the reality that early detection and aggressive treatment of cancer is not always the best thing.

                For two decades, some supporters of prostate cancer screening, even some so-called experts, have overstated, exaggerated and, in some cases, misled the public about the evidence supporting its effectiveness. They downplayed or failed to mention the risks of screening and misapplied and misstated basic principles of cancer screening.

                With evangelical fervor, true believers conducted mass screening in shopping malls, at state fairs and in supermarket parking lots. Screening has been sponsored by medical practices, hospitals, drug and medical device companies, politicians and even manufacturers of adult diapers. Most of these sponsors wanted to do a public service, but many profited from it. Some may also have been blinded by that profit.

                The phenomenon of so-called experts, who do not understand basic principles of screening, making exaggerated statements is not limited to prostate cancer. It also occurs in breast and lung cancer screening. Well-designed scientific study has clearly showed that these procedures save lives, but science has also demonstrated that the procedures have limitations and risks of harm.

                The Task Force, an independent board of experts in interpretation of medical evidence, convened by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, sanctioned true screening experts to review and assess every published scientific study concerning prostate cancer screening. This recently published review is very reasonable. It recognizes that the few studies that suggest that prostate screening saves lives are undermined by biases and inconsistencies. Of course, the studies that did not show a benefit to screening also have flaws. However, all studies consistently show that significant harms are associated with screening and the sometimes unnecessary treatment.

                Ironically, the Task Force recommendation isn't too far apart from that of the American Urologic Association, which represents most of the doctors who diagnose and treat prostate cancer. The association's 2009 publication titled "PSA Screening Best Practice" reads: "Given the uncertainty that PSA testing results in more benefit than harm, a thoughtful and broad approach to PSA is critical. Patients need to be informed of the risks and benefits of testing before it is undertaken. The risks of overdetection and overtreatment should be included in this discussion."

                While the Task Force statement is wise and reasonable, there is risk that the pendulum will swing too far.

                A move against all use of the PSA tests in screening and diagnostics would be unfortunate. The Task Force review does see some benefit to prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment. Guarded use of PSA testing as a diagnostic tool in select individuals within the physician-patient relation is reasonable and consistent with the U.S. Preventive Taskforce statement.

                Cancer screening is complex.

                Some outspoken clinician advocates of screening need to understand that complexity. We need balanced, truthful information widely available to physicians and patients.

                Sadly, the overselling and overpromise of screening technology in cancer and other diseases harms patients and — justifiably -- weakens trust in the medical profession. It also adds to the unnecessarily high cost of health care, which is already threatening the health of the U.S. economy.

                More than anything, the battle over prostate cancer screening raises a disturbing question: Are we as a society prepared to pay attention to scientific evidence?

                Thanks to CNN News
                Gregory D. Pawelski


                  One in Five Young Men Has Had Recent Prostate Cancer Test

                  A new analysis finds that one in five men in their 40s has had a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test within the previous year and that young black men are more likely than young white men to have undergone the test. The study, published in the September 15, 2008 issue of CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, provides valuable information as experts discuss possible changes to prostate cancer screening recommendations.

                  Currently, major medical organizations say evidence is insufficient to recommend routine prostate cancer screening using PSA or digital rectal exam (DRE). Rather, most group recommended men at average risk discuss with their doctor starting at age 50 whether to get tested. The American Cancer Society does though recommend that African Americans and men with a first degree relative with prostate cancer should , have screening every year, begin at age 45, and that men with two or more first degree relatives with prostate cancer begin testing at age 40.

                  To shed light on current PSA screening practices in young men, Dr. Judd Moul and Dr. Charles Scales, of Duke Prostate Center and Urologic Surgery at Duke University and colleagues obtained data from the 2002 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual, population-based survey of civilian, non-institutionalized adults in the United States. The final sample for this study consisted of 58,511 men ages 40 and above.

                  The investigators found that one in five of them men had undergone screening in the previous year. Several sociodemographic characteristics were associated with PSA screening in younger men. In particular, young, black, non-Hispanic men were more likely than young white, non-Hispanic men to report having a PSA test in the previous year. This finding was independent of income, education and access to care. The authors noted that these results are reassuring, showing that physicians are more likely to recommend screening among black men due to this group's elevated risk for prostate cancer. However, they also noted that PSA screening in this group remains potentially suboptimal; only about one in three African American men reported having a PSA test in the previous year.

                  The survey also revealed that younger Hispanic men were more likely to undergo PSA testing than younger white, non-Hispanic men. The probability of undergoing a PSA test was also higher with increasing obesity, as well as with higher household income and education level. Health insurance coverage and an ongoing relationship with a physician were also strongly associated with having had a recent PSA test.

                  The study is the first to specifically examine PSA screening in younger men, which provides an important assessment of quality of care, especially for high-risk groups, the authors write. Further investigation will be required to understand the impact of new risk-stratification strategies, with particular focus on the policy implications of potentially large increases in health care resource use.
                  Gregory D. Pawelski


                    No evidence of mortality benefit for annual PSA screening

                    Updated findings from one of the largest studies of prostate cancer screening show that the commonly used P.S.A. blood test did not save lives.

                    In a paper published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the scientists report that the additional follow-up time didn’t change the overall conclusion: that regular P.S.A. testing does not save lives and can lead to aggressive treatments that leave men impotent, incontinent or both.

                    Although about 12 percent more cancers were found among men in the screening group, the risk of dying of prostate cancer in the study was about the same for each group, whether the cancer was detected through screening or because a man developed symptoms. The findings suggest that the type of cancer typically detected by screening is so slow-growing that it often is unlikely to cause harm before the man dies of another cause.

                    “Despite additional follow-up, there is no demonstrable mortality benefit for the men who had P.S.A. testing compared to the usual care group,’’ said Dr. Gerald L. Andriole, the lead author and chief of urology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

                    After the study was finished, additional analysis also raised questions about whether certain younger, healthy men might benefit from P.S.A. testing. Although only about 300 men out of the 77,000 studied ended up dying of prostate cancer, the test appeared to have saved a few extra lives among younger men who didn’t have other health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure.

                    While that doesn’t change the overall finding that the risks of P.S.A. testing outweigh the benefits, Dr. Andriole said it may prompt additional research into whether younger men should get a baseline P.S.A. test or whether certain groups at higher risk for prostate cancer, like African-Americans or men with a strong family history of the disease, may benefit from routine screening.

                    “I think it supports the recommendation that for the average man in the United States, mass screening is probably not beneficial at all,’’ Dr. Andriole said. “It also will keep the discussion open about whether there are indeed subsets of men who do potentially stand to benefit from P.S.A. screening.”

                    Prostate Cancer Screening in the Randomized Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial: Mortality Results after 13 Years of Follow-up

                    Gerald L. Andriole, E. David Crawford, Robert L. Grubb III, Saundra S. Buys, David Chia, Timothy R. Church, Mona N. Fouad, Claudine Isaacs, Paul A. Kvale, Douglas J. Reding, Joel L. Weissfeld, Lance A. Yokochi, Barbara O’Brien, Lawrence R. Ragard, Jonathan D. Clapp, Joshua M. Rathmell, Thomas L. Riley, Ann W. Hsing, Grant Izmirlian, Paul F. Pinsky, Barnett S. Kramer, Anthony B. Miller, John K. Gohagan, Philip C. Prorok and for the PLCO Project Team



                    The prostate component of the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial was undertaken to determine whether there is a reduction in prostate cancer mortality from screening using serum prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing and digital rectal examination (DRE). Mortality after 7–10 years of follow-up has been reported previously. We report extended follow-up to 13 years after the trial.


                    A total of 76 685 men, aged 55–74 years, were enrolled at 10 screening centers between November 1993 and July 2001 and randomly assigned to the intervention (organized screening of annual PSA testing for 6 years and annual DRE for 4 years; 38 340 men) and control (usual care, which sometimes included opportunistic screening; 38 345 men) arms. Screening was completed in October 2006. All incident prostate cancers and deaths from prostate cancer through 13 years of follow-up or through December 31, 2009, were ascertained. Relative risks (RRs) were estimated as the ratio of observed rates in the intervention and control arms, and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated assuming a Poisson distribution for the number of events. Poisson regression modeling was used to examine the interactions with respect to prostate cancer mortality between trial arm and age, comorbidity status, and pretrial PSA testing. All statistical tests were two-sided.


                    Approximately 92% of the study participants were followed to 10 years and 57% to 13 years. At 13 years, 4250 participants had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in the intervention arm compared with 3815 in the control arm. Cumulative incidence rates for prostate cancer in the intervention and control arms were 108.4 and 97.1 per 10 000 person-years, respectively, resulting in a relative increase of 12% in the intervention arm (RR = 1.12, 95% CI = 1.07 to 1.17). After 13 years of follow-up, the cumulative mortality rates from prostate cancer in the intervention and control arms were 3.7 and 3.4 deaths per 10 000 person-years, respectively, resulting in a non-statistically significant difference between the two arms (RR = 1.09, 95% CI = 0.87 to 1.36). No statistically significant interactions with respect to prostate cancer mortality were observed between trial arm and age (Pinteraction = .81), pretrial PSA testing (Pinteraction = .52), and comorbidity (Pinteraction = .68).


                    After 13 years of follow-up, there was no evidence of a mortality benefit for organized annual screening in the PLCO trial compared with opportunistic screening, which forms part of usual care, and there was no apparent interaction with age, baseline comorbidity, or pretrial PSA testing.

                    JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2012) doi: 10.1093/jnci/djr500

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                    Gregory D. Pawelski