Doctors and patient advocacy groups are in a frenzy after a government panel recommended last week that healthy men no longer get screened for prostate cancer. The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force (USPTF) concluded that the potential harms of the prostate-specific antigen blood test outweigh the benefits among healthy men. Here's what you should know:
What's this test all about?
All men's prostate glands secrete the protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA), but men who have prostate cancer or other prostate problems secrete PSA at a higher rate. Still, the government panel says the test isn't particularly effective, says Julie Steenhuysen at Reuters, because other conditions can trigger high PSA counts — among them, "infections, an enlarged prostate or even recent ejaculation."
Are PSA tests dangerous?
The test itself isn't the danger; it's the aftermath. False positive results can lead to "needless" medical treatments such as surgery, biopsies, and radiation treatment — sometimes leaving men at high risk of being rendered "impotent, incontinent or both," says Gardiner Harris at The New York Times. Urologists, the doctors who typically administer PSA tests, are fighting the panel's recommendations, questioning both the methodology and conclusion.
What should men do?
That's the debate. Other screening tests, like rectal exams and ultrasounds, aren't very effective either. TIME's Alice Park suggests that healthy middle-aged men remain "vigilant," and discuss their options individually with their doctors. Remember: The panel's latest recommendations don't suddenly eliminate the risk of prostate cancer — they simply cast doubt on a popular screening method.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 3 horrific inaccuracies in Homeland's depiction of Islamabad
- Here comes the Pentagon's newest space plane
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- Extreme haunted houses: Inside Halloween's most terrifying new trend
- What is Molly? Everything you need to know about the party drug
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Let us now praise Billy Joel
Subscribe to the Week