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Surprising Science

Is Prostate Screening Unnecessary?

Having concluded that screening does not save lives, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force will recommend that healthy men forgo being screened with the familiar PSA blood test.

What’s the Latest Development?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is about to recommend that healthy men forgo being screened for prostate cancer with the familiar PSA blood test. Its recommendation is based on several human trials indicating that screening does not save lives. If a PSA level is high, for example, and the subsequent biopsy is positive for cancer, men who then receive treatment “do not have a lower death rate from prostate cancer than people who were never screened,” says Marc Garnick, prostate cancer expert at Harvard’s Medical School.

What’s the Big Idea?

It is important to bear in mind that the Task Force’s recommendation applies only to healthy men. Those with a history of prostate cancer in their family or African American men, who are at higher risk of contraction, should continue to be screened. “In the end, we urgently need a screening test that can distinguish well between prostate cancers that will become life-threatening and those that will not,” says Garnick, “and we need treatments that come with fewer risks of severe side effects.”

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