If you’re confused about prostate cancer screening tests, you aren’t alone. Even though cancer experts agree that early detection is crucial to successful prostate cancer treatment, there is no consensus about the best screening method.
The most widely known screening test is called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which is a simple screening method that is effective for detecting prostate cancer. But not all prostate cancers need treatment, and traditional treatments can lead to severe side effects, including urinary incontinence, erectile dysfunction, or bowel dysfunction. A test that comes back positive for cancer can cause anxiety that isn’t warranted.
A new study published in The Lancet, a respected medical journal, may result in even more confusion. The major European study concluded that PSA screening lowers a man’s risk of dying of prostate cancer by 21%, but even the study’s authors say the finding doesn’t support the use of widespread PSA screening. That’s because up to half of the detected cancers won’t lead to death, the study’s lead author told The New York Times. He said for every 27 cancers detected by PSA screening, only one man’s life would be saved.
In fact, the PSA test often puts men on a treadmill of biopsies and testing. And some of those patients wind up getting treatment of a cancer that would have never caused a problem if left alone.
So what’s the solution? Doctors can help by identifying their patients who are at a greater risk of getting prostate cancer, such as men with a family history of the disease or African-American males. Additionally, we wrote about another diagnostic test that analyzes samples of seminal fluid to screen for early signs of prostate cancer. A new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test may also help find the most aggressive cancers that require treatment.
And, as with other forms of cancer, prevention through dietary and lifestyle changes is an integral part of decreasing the chances of developing the disease.