The Prostate Cancer Awareness Week
(pcaw.org) has compiled the following information on the prostate
PSA Changes Over Time Flag Cancer
Kaiser Permanente Recommends Against Prostate Screenings
The Prevalent View of ASCO, the American Cancer Society and many HMO's
The Danger in this View
Best Reason to Fight for More Research
PSA Changes Over Time Flag Cancer Risk
Despite the recent controversy over of the use of PSA tests the most commonly used screening method for prostate cancer today the new findings indicate they may play an important role in helping to accurately identify men who are more likely to be at risk of death from more lethal, fast-growing tumors.
"The use of a single, elevated PSA level to screen for prostate cancer is considered controversial given the questionable benefits of PSA screening on prostate cancer mortality," said lead researcher Lauren P. Wallner, a post-doctoral research fellow at Kaiser Permanente Southern California's Department of Research & Evaluation.
The screening may also result in unnecessary prostate biopsies and subsequent treatments for localized prostate cancer, as it does not distinguish well between slow-growing and aggressive disease. [But] our study demonstrates that repeated measurements of PSA over time could provide a more accurate and much needed detection strategy for aggressive forms of prostate cancer."
For the study, published in the British Journal of Urology International, Wallner and colleagues examined the electronic health records of nearly 220,000 men (ages 45 and older) who had at least one PSA measurement and no history of prostate cancer over a 10-year period.
The results showed that annual percent changes in PSA more accurately predicted the presence of aggressive prostate cancer, compared to single measurements of PSA alone, but only slightly improved the prediction of prostate cancer overall. Men in the study were found to experience a 2.9 percent change in PSA levels per year on average and that the rate of change in PSA increased modestly with age.
"The results of this study could provide clinicians with a better prostate cancer preventive strategy that could help differentiate between men with an aggressive form of the disease and those who have slow-growing, indolent cancer that may not necessarily merit treatment," said Wallner. "While we do not suggest that patients proactively seek out additional PSA measurements, men who already have had multiple PSAs may consider discussing the change in their PSA levels with their clinician when determining future treatment strategies."
The PSA test measures the level of an antigen, made by the prostate, in a man's blood. The higher the PSA level, the more likely a prostate problem is present. But many factors, such as age, race, and non-cancerous conditions can affect PSA levels.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against PSA screening for men who do not have symptoms. But many health experts recommend that men age 40 and older consult their doctors about the PSA test.
After non-melanoma skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common
cancer among American men. It is diagnosed in more than 215,000 men
annually; 28,000 die from the disease each year.
Kaiser Permanente Recommends Against Prostate Screenings
* The Reasons Kaiser gives for not having a PSA test:
Many other expert organizations like the U.S. Preventive Services
Task Force, the National Cancer Institute and the Canadian Task Force
on Periodic Health Exams do not recommend PSA testing. Althought
the American Cancer Society recomends prostate cancer screening and
wants to increase public awaerness, the more frequent testing that
they recommend has not been shown to prevent prostate cancer deaths.
(Actually, the American Cancer Society no longer recommends testing,
The Prevalant View of ASCO, the American
Cancer Society and many HMO's
Unlike other cancers, prostate cancer grows very slowly in many (not all) men, so slowly that they would not threaten the life of the patient if not treated. So detecting cancer may subject some men to surgery and other treatments that might not ever be needed. Since prostate cancer treatments have significant side effects, treating it unnecessarily can seriously affect a mans quality of life.
Until there is more complete research to evaluate, ASCO does not yet have an official statement about prostate cancer screening, or recommendations for men on when they should start getting tested for prostate cancer. Patients should discuss their situation with their doctor and work together to make a decision.
The Danger in this
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy in American men. It is curable if diagnosed early. Early detection is the key.
About 30,000 men will die from it this year alone. Men over 40 don't need another excuse to avoid taking care of their health.
But the argument against the use of the prostate specific antigen blood test for detecting prostate cancer has provided that excuse -- pitting public health officials and primary care physicians, who claim there is no evidence of PSA success beyond a reasonable doubt, against many urologists who ask why a 27 percent decline in prostate cancer mortalities in the past five years isn't evidence enough.
Despite American Cancer Society and American Urological Association guidelines that encourage doctors to offer a PSA test and a digital rectal exam while discussing the risks of the disease, too many doctors lean toward discouraging the test, focusing on misplaced convictions that the test discovers insignificant tumors and that it doesn't save lives.
Physicians who have deferred or waffled on PSA testing are losing their licenses and seeing their malpractice insurance carriers pay out millions of dollars to bereaved families.
In a November 2001 wrongful death suit, a widow was awarded $3 million in a case in which the doctor in question "did not tell the patient about [the high PSA level] or recommend further testing or follow up visits."
A study at Long Beach Community Cancer Center of 48 such prostate cancer malpractice cases determined that, of the 22 awards totaling over $8.4 million, roughly $7.5 million "could have been avoided if PSA screening and diagnostic guidelines . . . had been followed."
These cases have become legal benchmarks as the PSA debate has moved from the doctor's office into the courthouse. They should come as a warning to science and public health policy officials across the country: If you continue to delay a decision on PSA, lawyers and lawmakers will make it for you.
Urologists will tell you that, despite imperfections, the PSA test has changed the prostate cancer diagnostic landscape. Before it, nearly three out of four men diagnosed with the disease were in the late stages -- when prostate cancer is neither readily treatable nor curable. The advent of screening has inverted that statistic, giving men a fighting chance. Regional studies support that early detection reduces mortality. One study in Austria shows that prostate cancer mortalities were markedly reduced with widespread PSA screening.
Even though newer blood tests help clarify the likelihood of cancer when PSA is abnormal, we still need more research to determine better models for early detection. But should we doom the thousands of men who could die waiting up to 14 years for the results of a randomized trial to determine "perfect intelligence" on the PSA? With so many lives in the balance, how much evidence do we need to convince us that prostate cancer is our enemy, not the test that so often detects it in time to permit a cure?
Men over the age of 40 -- and even younger if they are at higher
risk of prostate cancer (African Americans and men with family
histories of the disease) should "get on with it." Set aside the
excuses and resolve to be tested every year.
Source: Carl Frankel, an advocate for the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, is retired general counsel for the United Steel Workers of America and a prostate cancer survivor. www.post-gazette.com/healthscience/20020611hprostate4.asp
Best Reason to Fight for More Research
The major reason all of these major organizations that deal with cancer are not recommending testing is because, unlike breast cancer, they say they haven't found anything that improves or extends a man's life if he gets prostate cancer so, basically, just let it grow.
With almost five-times more research spending per death, plus untold millions on awareness, breast cancer cures are seeing great results. At the rate men bought Viagra, you've got to believe they would spend a lot if there was something that could stop prostate cancer without becoming impotent or incontinent.
The difference is that women have raised the banners. Have spend their personal time and money to make things happen, have purchased millions of Breast Cancer Awareness Stamps, have made a difference.
Unlike women, few men have done any of those things, and while the U.S. Postal Service did create a Prostate Cancer Awareness stamp, over 50 million of the 78 million stamps went un-purchased.
Will you wake up before you get prostate cancer to find a way that helps men live out those final years happier and healthier? Will you?
Note: Spending in 1997 on research looked something like this:
Breast Cancer $12,800/death, prostate cancer $2,700/death.)
Male Cancer on Increase
Men "Unwilling" to Discuss Cancer
New prostate cancer
test advice overturns dogma
They may not listen. After all, the vast majority of men over 50 already get tested.
The idea that finding cancer early can harm instead of help is a hard one to understand. But it's at the heart of a government panel's draft recommendation that those PSA blood tests should no longer be part of routine screening for healthy men.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force examined all the evidence and found little if any reduction in deaths from routine PSA screening. But it did conclude that too many men are diagnosed with tumors that never would have killed them and suffer serious side effects from resulting treatment.
That recommendation isn't final it's a draft open for public comment. But it goes a step further than several major cancer groups including the American Cancer Society, which urges that men be told the pros and cons and decide for themselves.
The new advice is sure to be hugely controversial. Already some doctors are rejecting it.
"We all agree that we've got to do a better job of figuring out who would benefit from PSA screening. But a blanket statement of just doing away with it altogether ... seems over-aggressive and irresponsible," said Dr. Scott Eggener, a prostate cancer specialist at the University of Chicago.
In the exam room, explaining the flaws in PSA testing has long been difficult.
"Men have been confused about this for a very long time, not just men patients but men doctors," said Dr. Yul Ejnes, a Cranston, R.I., internal medicine specialist who chairs the American College of Physicians' board of regents.
He turned down his own physician's offer of a PSA test after personally reviewing the research.
"There's this dogma ... that early detection saves lives. It's not necessarily true for all cancers," Ejnes said.
That's an emotional shift, as the American Cancer Society's Dr. Len Lichtenfeld voiced on his blog on Friday.
"We have invested over 20 years of belief that PSA testing works. ... And here we are all of these years later, and we don't know for sure," Lichtenfeld wrote. "We have been poked and probed, we have been operated on by doctors and robots, we have been radiated with fancy machines, we have spent literally billions of dollars. And what do we have? A mess of false hope?"
Too much PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, in the blood only sometimes signals prostate cancer is brewing. It also can mean a benign enlarged prostate or an infection. In fact, most men who undergo a biopsy for an abnormal PSA test don't turn out to have prostate cancer.
Screening often detects small tumors that will prove too slow-growing to be deadly by one estimate, in 2 of every 5 men whose cancer is caught through a PSA test. But there's no way to tell in advance who needs treatment.
"If we had a test that could distinguish between a cancer that was going to be aggressive and a cancer that was not, that would be fabulous," said Dr. Virginia Moyer of the Baylor College of Medicine, who chairs the task force, an independent expert group that reviews medical evidence for the government.
About 1 in 6 U.S. men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life. Yet the cancer society notes that in Western European countries where screening isn't common, 1 in 10 men are diagnosed and the risk of death in both places is the same. In the U.S., about 217,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, and 32,000 die.
Why not screen in case there's a mortality benefit that studies have yet to tease out? The task force outlined the problem with that:
Among the questions sure to be raised during the public comment period are how doctors should advise men with prostate cancer in the family or black men, who are at increased risk.
PSA testing also is used to examine men with prostate symptoms, and to check men who already have had prostate cancer. The new recommendation doesn't affect those uses.
Congress requires that Medicare cover PSA tests, at a cost of $41 million in 2009. Other insurers follow Medicare's lead, especially in light of conflicting recommendations.
Nor does the new recommendation mean that men who want a PSA test can't have one. If the rule is adopted something the government will review once the task force hears comments and finalizes its guidance it would just advise against doctors pushing it routinely.
"The truth is that like so many things in medicine, there's no one-size-fits-all," said Dr. Michael Barry of Massachusetts General Hospital who heads the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision-Making that backs ways to help patients make their own choices.
(Editor's Note: The question I have is who's going to volunteer to tell the 32,000 men who die each year not to get tested because we might have to do something that will make you incontenent.)
PSA decision guide: http://bit.ly/cXq1QE
"You cannot sit back and do nothing because you'll never have perfect intelligence on the enemy...Get on with it." General Norman Schwarzkopf said after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer