The question whether or not men should screen for prostate cancer has been a constant tug-of-war in the medical community for years. And the number of times experts have switched their recommendations based on new research has only caused people whiplash and more confusion on which is the best decision.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among men. But a simple blood test, known as a prostate antigen (PSA) test, can detect the cancer at its earliest stages. And the obvious benefits of early detection are higher survival rates and more treatment options. So why are prostate cancer screenings still one of the most disputed topics in the medical community?
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), out of a thousand men who’ll get a PSA test, 240 will be told they may have cancer. To confirm, a biopsy will be performed in which a needle gets inserted through the rectum to grab samples of the prostate gland for testing. From the 240 biopsies, a hundred of them will be told they definitely have cancer. The rest are told they had a false positive, meaning their PSA levels were misleading and they don’t have cancer.
Of the hundred, 80 of them will choose treatment, either surgery or radiation. The problem is that up to 50 of those hundred will actually have cancers that never develop into anything harmful. What it basically comes down to is that while doctors are great at detecting prostate cancer, it’s still difficult for them to distinguish if the cancer is life-threatening or harmless, if left untreated.
When you place all the odds together, the PSA test isn’t all that reliable with the number of false positives and overdiagnosis. Additionally, follow-up tests and treatments frequently come with serious health complications, such as erectile dysfunction and sexual incontinence, regardless of whether the cancer developed into anything harmful.
Because of this, the USPSTF previously recommended against screenings for men. Recently, however, they changed their recommendation to allow for screenings of men over 70, or younger than 55.
So, where does that leave men between the ages of 55 and 69? As with anything that has to deal with the health of an individual, the decision to get screened should be an informed one, based on conversations between the patient and their doctor. Research found that men are now more informed about their treatment options and the risks associated with screenings. As a result, more men are opting to wait in getting immediate treatment, which reduces the risks for harmful side effects, but is also leaving more men open to the possibility of a more aggressive cancer down the line.
Unfortunately, the USPSTF wasn’t able to give a definitive yes or no answer to whether or not men should get screened for prostate cancer. While the risks of health complications and overdiagnosis are high, prostate cancer screenings are important when it comes to prevention, and ultimately lowering the number of fatalities. However, it’s difficult for experts to determine exactly how many lives a prostate cancer screening might actually save, or if the risks truly outweigh the benefits.
In the end, the decision comes down to you, so talk to your doctor, weigh your risks and get the information you need to make the best decision possible. Your health depends on it.
To find and book a prostate cancer screening, just go to our LabFinder homepage.
LabFinder is a no-cost, online platform for people to easily schedule their medical tests and view results securely. The LabFinder team is passionate about improving the ‘patient and doctor experience’ through better communication, reduce out-of-pocket expenses and making everyone know more about their own medical tests. The mission of LabFinder is simple: we want to be solution to you and get you the test results you deserve so you can make right choices about your health.