A new study released this week in the journal Cancer makes a strong argument in favor of PSA testing for prostate cancer. This, despite the fact that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended against routine PSA screening due to the high rate of overdiagnosis and overtreatment.
The PSA or Prostate-Specific Antigen test is commonly used to detect the presence of prostate cancer. PSA is a protein produced in the prostate and found in the semen. High levels of the antigen, when detected by the PSA test, may indicate prostate cancer, but the test has come under scrutiny in recent years due to the high incidence of overdiagnosis, which can lead to invasive and often life-altering treatment.
But one researcher is arguing that the test is still saving lives.
According to the new study, led by Dr. Edward Messing, chief of urology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in the three years before widespread PSA testing was conducted (1983-1985), men were three times more likely to receive a diagnosis of very late-stage prostate cancer if they were receiving their initial diagnosis than men diagnosed in the most recent three years for which data is available (2006-2008).
In 2008, about 8,000 U.S. men were diagnosed with very late-stage or metastatic prostate cancer — the kind that spreads quickly to the bone and other parts of the body and is usually fatal within two years or less. By extrapolating the data and projecting forward from the three years before widespread PSAs, Messing calculates that without routine PSA tests, 25,000 men would have been diagnosed in 2008. Thus he concludes that an extra 17,000 cases of the deadly disease would have been diagnosed if PSA testing had not been not conducted.
So should you get the PSA test? The American Cancer Society recommends that any man considering getting the PSA test talk to his doctors about the pros and cons of PSA screening.