Prostate Cancer Screening: A Confusing Topic For Men

All men are at risk for prostate cancer as they age. While certain factors, such as age, ethnicity and family history can increase the likelihood, the simple fact is any man can get and die from this particular disease. Known to be highly treatable in its earliest stages, prostate cancer is a sticky subject for both men and their doctors. As early screening protocols and recommendations remain in flux, this issue is likely to persist. The turmoil in recommendations has raised concerns for some in the medical field while leading men to find they are not receiving all the facts about this disease from their healthcare providers.

A recent study took a closer look at this topic and what men reported hearing from their doctors. A total of 1,700 patients nationwide were asked to fill out a questionnaire related to prostate-specific antigen testing and prostate cancer. Only 17 percent of patients reported being told that discord exists in the profession about whether PSA tests should be used for screening. Only 23 percent of men said they were told that some forms of prostate cancer are very slow growing and need no immediate treatment as a result. Only 25 percent of patients said they were told that PSA screening isn’t always accurate. About 31 percent of respondents said they had been told that prostate cancer of any kind can lead to serious complications, such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

What’s causing the state of confusion and the lack of information?

A number of changes in recommendations have been made in recent years. Some recommendations say men age 50 or up should undergo screening. Others recommend screen should take place between ages 55 to 69, or earlier if a man is at a particular high risk for the disease. Complicating matters more, the PSA test, the main screening tool used, has been taken off the table as routine exam by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. While the test is known to produce a high frequency of false positives, as that organization notes, other groups say the PSA should continue to be used because it offers insight into the potential the disease might be present.

With no hard-and-fast rules, doctors and the men they treat have been left with a confusing situation to navigate. This situation has led some to suggest that screening should take place, but patients should be fully informed that results are not always accurate. Shared decision making, they say, should go into prostate cancer detection and any treatment that may result if positive results are found.

The bottom line is that an estimated 180,000 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year alone. Some 26,000 men will die from the disease. Known to be highly treatable in its earliest forms, this disease is one that all men should discuss with their healthcare providers. The best recommendations in a man’s case will come from a personal physician aware of the patient’s medical and family history.

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