Government Panel Recommends Deliberate Ignorance Over PSA Testing (October 7, 20011)
The United States Preventive Services Task Force is preparing to recommend that men should not be screened for prostate cancer. This recommendation is focused on the periodic use of PSA blood tests in healthy men. The majority of men 50 and older in the United States have had a PSA Test (and possibly Free PSA Test) as part of a physical or in addition to routine blood work. Often the doctor never shares the results with their patient.
The PSA test measures the concentration of prostate-specific antigen in the blood. Prostate-specific antigen is a protein released by prostate cells, present in small quantities in the blood of healthy men. Monitoring levels of PSA in the blood is extremely effective at identifying early cases of prostate cancer. The effectiveness of the PSA test is not disputed, what is controversial is that most men with prostate cancer will not die from the disease and may suffer no ill effects at all because the cancer is typically slow growing.
The official release from the panel is scheduled for next week and is based on the results of five clinical trials concluding that the PSA blood test does not saves lives and leads to more tests and expensive treatments. Further that the results obtained from the test lead to anguish and needless suffering. According to the task force treatments and biopsies were prescribed to more than one million men based on the result of PSA testing from 1986 through 2005.
Essentially this panel is declaring that men are better off not knowing if they have prostate cancer. Unfortunately most medical groups will follow this panel's recommendations. However, there will be resistance from tens of thousands of prostate cancer survivors who believe that the PSA test saved their lives. Joe Torre, Michael Milken and Rudolph W. Giuliani are all high profile examples of men who survived prostate cancer with the help of a PSA test. Some members of Congress have criticized the panel calling previous decisions akin to rationing health care services.
What is a questionable recommendation for the healthcare system as a whole is definitely not the right choice for an informed individual who rejects the idea that your health information is provided on a need to know basis. We believe that any healthcare decision based on the assumption that you are better off not knowing is a bad decision. Knowledge is power and knowing what is going on in your body is the ultimate control of your fate.