PSA Screening of Informed Patients

Nancy Muller Health Pro
  • PSA Screening of Informed Patients


    Recently I blogged concern over population-wide research revealing how women, feeling current, economic constraints from their household's loss of income and insurance coverage, are increasingly foregoing screening for cancers and cardiovascular disease.  The behavior of women is running counter to medical advice and opinion. 


    A very different situation looms for men.  Controversy rages over who should have the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood screening test for detecting prostate cancer and how often it should be repeated.  Doctors' recommendations for PSA screening vary, some widely.  In 2008, the Preventive Services Task Force of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality issued a clear recommendation against PSA screening after age 75.  Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2009, nearly 200,000 new cases of prostate cancer will surface, while 27,360 men die from the disease.  That is three deaths every hour of the year in the U.S. alone.  Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men, aside from skin cancer.

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    There remains general agreement that men should be informed about the potential risks and benefits of PSA screening being performed.  A "normal" level of the protein found in the blood has not been established.  This is complicated by the fact PSA levels generally rise with age even without the presence of cancer.  Men receiving a "false-positive" reading, with elevated PSA but no cancer, may undergo costly tests and a biopsy resulting in adverse side effects such as incontinence or infection.  Others receiving a "false-negative" reading, or a "normal" PSA level in the presence of cancer, may die prematurely from undetected, untreated cancer.   Currently, Medicare covers an annual PSA test for all men age 50 and older.  The FDA has approved use of the test along with a digital rectal exam (DRE) to help detect prostate cancer in men 50 and older1.


    Having now a dear friend in his mid-‘50's, whose doctor elected not to order a PSA reading from blood work during his last several annual physicals and who is today diagnosed as a result with prostate cancer too advanced for surgical treatment, I feel strongly about the need for safe screening to be continued on all at-risk men. Every man from age 50 onward should have an annual PSA check, alongside a digital rectal exam.  What to then do with the information from results of the test is between the patient and his physician.  Patient education and open dialogue are critical to avoid mental stress, confusion, outcomes for which a man is ill-prepared, and outright anger.  


    The entire burden for communication, however, cannot reside with the doctor.  The patient has a responsibility to get informed.  It's why there are patient education and advocacy organizations such as NAFC to supply information about risks of both diagnostic and treatment options and how to address negative side effects.  For access to information on this subject, visit the NAFC website


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    Prostate cancer deserves curative male prostate lumpectomy just as we have achieved with breast cancer in women.  But we aren't there yet.  It is tragic that today's surgical remedies leave tens of thousands of men incontinent and sexually dysfunctional every year.  Radiation and chemotherapy seem to buy only limited time in non-surgically treating the cancer.  Every day, I pray for my dear friend George.


    Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) re-introduced on March 31, 2009, two bills to improve research on prostate cancer and ovarian cancer.  S.756, the "Prostate Research, Imaging, and Men's Education Act (PRIME)" provides for prostate cancer imaging research and education, the kind that is needed.  Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) reintroduced the Act in the House of Representatives.  I urge you to write or call or email or fax your representatives in the U. S. Senate and the U. S. House of Representatives to get behind these bills. 


    We need to rid our nation - and the world over - of this plague.  Don't let healthcare policy pundits delude you into thinking that screening is a waste of time or money. Get better informed to be empowered as a patient to work with your doctor in deciding what to do with the results of screening.  Put your voice behind research to help bring more effective, less risky options into the equation of treatment and cure.  Give this a priority voice, today............ so that more of us are here and together tomorrow.


    1Sourced from 

    accessed on 20 May 2009



    Nancy Muller

    NAFC Executive Director

Published On: May 28, 2009