For Seventy-Five and Older: Prostate Cancer Test May Be a Waste

Friday, February 27, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: prostate cancer, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) Research set for publication in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Urology (Volume 181, Issue 4), conducted by researchers from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health) and the Department of Urology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine casts doubt that every adult man should be tested regularly for prostate cancer. The reason? In many men who are 75 or older, the widely used Prostate-Specific-Antigen (PSA) test may not increase the rates of undetected life-threatening disease while it does raise medical costs. Even more importantly, PSA testing in these men could lead to unnecessary treatments (with possibly serious side effects) since death from other causes is more likely than death from prostate cancer.

Because PSA screening can find cancers that may become life-threatening in 5 to 25 years, the test is widely used as part of health screenings in 40 to 50-year-old men. But the test can also uncover cancers that never lead to death. In fact, non-lethal prostate cancers make up about 30% of the cases found by the PSA, according to the researchers' media statement.

The scientists studied 849 men (122 with and 727 without prostate cancer) by performing a series of PSA tests. The results showed that none of the men who were 75 years old or older and had a PSA below 3 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter) subsequently died from cancer of the prostate and only one developed high-risk cancer of the prostate. On the other hand, men of all ages with a PSA greater than or equal to 3.0 ng/ml did have an increased risk of death from prostate cancer.

In a statement to the press, the study's lead researcher, Edward M. Schaeffer MD, PhD, emphasized that men over the age of 75 years should continue to be checked for clinical signs of prostate cancer. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, a clinical exam for prostate cancer involves a digital rectal exam, or DRE, which a physician performs by inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into a man's rectum in order to examine the size, texture and shape of the prostate to make sure there are no significant irregularities. The DRE can also be used to help distinguish between non-cancerous conditions like benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) and possible malignancies.

"The optimal approach to prostate cancer screening remains controversial. To date, there is limited evidence from which to inform the decision on when to discontinue prostate cancer screening. Our findings suggest that men at an age of 75-80 years who have a PSA level below 3ng/ml are unlikely to be diagnosed with a high risk prostate cancer during life. These men may therefore represent an ideal target group for discontinuation of PSA testing, which could dramatically reduce the costs associated with screening and the potential morbidity of additional evaluations and/or treatment in a population unlikely to gain benefit," Dr. Schaeffer concluded in the Journal of Urology article.

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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