March 29, 2011

USA: Too Many Old Men Get Prostate Cancer Tests

DENVILLE, New Jersey / The Post Chronicle / Health / March 29, 2011

Many men in their 80s get regular blood tests for prostate cancer even though there's no evidence the tests will benefit them, according to a new study.

In older men, finding hidden prostate cancer might not be helpful, because the cancer might not shorten their lifespan. But once it's discovered, a very early-stage cancer usually leads to painful and expensive medical encounters.

So with elderly men, screening "makes no sense," Dr. Peter Albertsen, a prostate cancer researcher at University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington who was not involved with the current study, told Reuters Health.

The researchers also found that men in their 70s were almost twice as likely as men in their 50s to have a blood test that looks for signs of prostate cancer - even though younger men have the best chance to benefit from screening.

"Those younger men are the ones the test was designed for," Dr. Scott Eggener, one of the study's authors from the University of Chicago Medical Center, told Reuters Health. But older men "are far more likely to see their doctor regularly," and doctors may be used to ordering the prostate cancer blood tests in these men without really thinking about it, he said.

The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, come amid a debate in the medical community on whether routine cancer screening can extend lives.

The blood test in question looks for a protein produced by the prostate called prostate-specific antigen, or PSA. As the National Institutes of Health explains on its web site, the higher a man's PSA level, the more likely it is that he has prostate cancer. A man can have an elevated PSA level without having cancer, though.

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