Routine tests used to detect prostate cancer reduce the risk of death from the disease, researchers said, adding more evidence to a debate over the role of screening.
Those who were screened for PSA, a protein associated with the cancer at high levels, had a 21 percent lower risk of dying from the disease than those who weren’t screened, according to the study published today by the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers tracked more than 160,000 European men older than 50 for a median of 11 years.
To prevent one death from prostate cancer, more than 1,000 men would need to be invited for testing and 37 cancers would need to be detected, the researchers said. Screening for PSA didn’t result in a lower risk of death from any cause over the period of the study, they found. Treatment for the cancer, which grows slowly in most men, may result in complications including bacterial infections, incontinence and impotence.
“More information on the balance of benefits and adverse effects, as well as the cost-effectiveness, of prostate-cancer screening is needed before general recommendations can be made,” wrote the researchers, led by Fritz Schroeder at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
PSA testing can miss the disease, or give a positive reading as a result of benign prostate conditions, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Almost 242,000 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, and about 28,000 will die, the institute estimates.
PSA screening doesn’t save sufficient lives to justify exposing men to risks of death, incontinence and impotence, a U.S. panel said in a draft report in October. The Health and Human Services Department’s Preventive Services Task Force recommended against PSA tests for men who don’t have symptoms that are “highly suspicious for prostate cancer.”