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Posted on 03-18-2013

Medical Group to Say Men Don't Need Prostate Cancer Screenings

The above headline comes from an October 7, 2011 story on CNN, based on a draft recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that reads, “The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-based screening for prostate cancer.”

According to their website, “The USPSTF is an independent panel of non-Federal experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine and is composed of primary care providers (such as internists, pediatricians, family physicians, gynecologists/obstetricians, nurses, and health behavior specialists).”

The CNN article notes that this is the same group that recently released a recommendation stating that women in their 40’s do not need regular mammograms. One of the problems that the USPSTF identified is that the prostate-specific antigen test, known commonly as “PSA” can show up to 80 percent false positives leading to needless medical procedures and dangers.

The USPSTF explains the how and why they make such recommendations by saying, “For the USPSTF to recommend a service, the benefits of the service must outweigh the harms. The USPSTF focuses on maintenance of health and quality of life as the major benefits of clinical preventive services, and not simply the identification of disease.”

Dr. Kenneth Lin, senior author of the USPSTF research paper on which the draft statement is based, pointed out that only a small percentage of men testing positive from PSA tests have the type of prostate cancer that is fast growing and possibly fatal. His research suggests that the harm of further testing and treatment outweigh the possible benefits to the population at large. Dr. Lin commented, “Maybe you should get tested if you have this horrible family history where everyone gets prostate cancer before the age of 50. But for most men, testing is harmful.”

Dr. Lin and the USPSTF have come under severe criticism for their recommendations by groups that support such testing. He stated his frustration with the politics and interference from outside groups to the USPSTF’s recommendation. He noted that the USPSTF was prepared to make its recommendations on prostate screening over a year ago, but those recommendations were withheld because of the negative feedback they received after their recommendations about mammography. Dr. Lin, left the USPSTF in November and is now an assistant professor of family medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. He explained his frustration in the closing of the CNN article by saying, “I was so frustrated with the political interference, and this was the final straw.”

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