1. Health

Prostate Screening needs Improvement


Updated August 29, 2006

More than 230,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 30,000 men will die of the disease this year. The test to screen for the disease is not 100 per cent successful in detecting some early cancers and new research has shown that men need a test that is more accurate and also able to differentiate between aggressive tumors and those that are less dangerous.

The PSA (prostate specific antigen) test, is used by doctors to investigate men with scores above 4 as this can sometimes indicate cancer is present. Yet a new study of nearly 3,000 men has found cancers in 15 per cent of the men with PSA scores below 4 although only a few of the cancers were dangerous. The study also identified that the risk of prostate cancer rose as the levels of PSA increased.

The problem is the PSA test is not specific enough. You can get a high PSA test result for a number of reasons; infections, benign swellings as well as cancers. Prostate cancer appears to be quite common and it is estimated that probably about two thirds of men aged between 60 and 70 years may have the disease. The disease is therefore present in many men who show symptoms beyond some minor difficulties in passing urine. It contributes to the reason why, when prostate cancers are found early and are identified as slow growing, a doctor’s consultation will involve talking about the point at which any surgical intervention should be considered.

There are differing opinions amongst medical researchers and professionals about the way to treat prostate cancers. Some believe more screening should take place and that all men with PSA levels over 2.5 should have a prostate biopsy. However Howard L. Parnes, one of the authors of this latest research and chief of the Prostate and Urologic Cancer Research Group at NCI, is less sure given the uncertainty over thresholds of the current test. A better screening test is needed and consultation with a physician to assess individual risk is the most important treatment choice.

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