Government Task Force Updates Prostate Screening Recommendations

A U.S. government task force has released further updates on when adult men should check for prostate cancer, following up initial estimates which were released in April.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends “that clinicians inform men ages 55 to 69 years about the potential benefits and harms of prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-based screening for prostate cancer.” However, it did not recommend screening for individuals aged 70 or over. The guidelines are open for public comment until May 8.

These recommendations are a change from 2012, where the USPSTF said that no one should routinely screen for prostate cancer. Doctors had decried that decision, claiming that lives were lost as individuals did not learn that they had the disease until it was too late.

Prostate cancer screening entails little more than drawing a sample of blood, but the procedure is not without risk. The screening can detect false positives or stable cancers, which can lead to invasive treatments or procedures which only harm a patient who is largely healthy. As the USPSTF noted, “incontinence and impotence” can result from treatment complications and every individual should reach his own decision on whether to undergo screening.

The Risks of Prostate Cancer

But some doctors feel that these new changes do not go far enough. Dr. David Samadi argued on Yahoo that “scientific evidence strongly suggests the benefits of this routine testing in younger men outweigh the potential harms.” According to Samadi, younger men were also at risk of prostate cancer and the pitfalls of a screening are less than before. He recommends that men at 50 should undergo screening, and potentially even younger men depending on other factors.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer afflicting men after skin cancer. While it is generally not as dangerous as other forms of cancer, it will still cause an estimated 26,000 American deaths in 2017.

While the USPSTF had recommended against screening in 2012, prostate screening rates had remained stable between 2013 and 2015. It thus should be expected that screening rates will increase after these changed recommendations, with hopefully good news in the fight against the disease.