The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test can spot prostate cancer early. But surprisingly, annual PSA tests may not lead to fewer prostate cancer deaths, a new study suggests.
Some doctors advise men 50 and older to take the PSA test each year, but others are concerned about the downside. PSA tests may give false-positive results or find slow-growing tumors that will never cause serious problems. Follow-up tests and procedures can have serious side effects.
To see how annual PSA screening affects death rates, NIH-funded scientists studied more than 76,000 men. Half the men received PSA tests for 6 years and then digital rectal exams for 4 years. The other men were given no recommendations about prostate cancer screening.
After 10 years, 17% more prostate cancers were diagnosed in the screening group. However, there was no significant difference in the death rates between the 2 groups.
“What this report tells us is that there may be some men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer and have the side effects of treatment, such as impotence and incontinence, with little chance of benefit,” said Dr. John E. Niederhuber, director of NIH’s National Cancer Institute.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to make a recommendation about prostate cancer screening for men younger than 75. For men 75 and older, they recommend against screening. Their assessment, however, was released before the new reports came out. Because of the uncertainties, NIH will continue to study different ways to screen for prostate cancer.