Friday, June 8, 2012

USPSTF Position on PSA Testing, a D?

Well obviously they did not read my last blog, I guess I really didn't expect them to! I need to Blog more frequently so it can be read and make it higher on peoples list and maybe they'll see it. I don't think it will affect their decision though.

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) published their current recommendations on PSA screening. They gave it a "D" that means "The USPSTF recommends against the service. There is moderate or high certainty that the service has no net benefit or that the harms outweigh the benefits." So their recommendations for practice is "Discourage the use of this service."

The Draft recommendation last October recommended that man over the age of 75 not be tested, but testing for men under the age of 75 the data was inconclusive. The final recommendation is much more damaging.

This study was generated from two main sets of data. The first is considered to as the US PLCO trial, This is the prostate, lung, colorectal and ovarian cancer trial data all rolled into one. The second is the RESPC trial from Europe, which is the European Standard Study for Screening of Prostate Cancer. The bottom line is this data specifically looks at mortality, that is how many men die from Prostate cancer. The conclusion they say from the data is 4-5 per 1000 men. According to the research quoted as part of this study, if we screen all men with a PSA Test that only decreases the number of deaths from prostate cancer by 1? If you're that one man out of every 1000, that's pretty significant. It could also mean that most men, even if they have prostate cancer, are dying from some other cause or they're list cause of death os something other than prostate cancer. Men do not typically die from prostate cancer, they might die from the complications of prostate cancer and it really depends on how that is listed on the death certificate. This relates back to how accurate the statistics are in the above mentioned studies. This is a subject of a whole different blog.


"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."
Mark Twain's Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review


Last year (2011) at a UK meeting, data was presented that showed that the death rate for men diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in the UK was almost 50% compared with 15% in the US. They attributed the large disparity to the fact that PSA screenings are not performed for asymptomatic men the UK. So their conclusions were the exact opposite.

But let's continue, let's assume their statistics are right:

To me the issue is what about quality of life? This study implies it is concerned about quality of life because it discusses the complications of the biopsy and treatment. What about the complications of not being treated? If you have an aggressive prostate cancer you will get worse complications from the disease than the treatment. It's like everything else in life, it's a risk vs benefit relationship. BUT you cannot adequate evaluate the risks and benefits if you don't have the appropriate information. The PSA test gives you an important piece of that information.

Without a PSA Test, by definition, prostate cancer cannot be found until it is at last grade of Stage 2, referred to as a T2B, almost a Stage 3. It has to be palpable (felt).

StageTumorNodesMetastasisGrade
Stage IT1aN0M0G1
Stage IIT1aN0M0G2–4
T1bN0M0Any G
T1cN0M0Any G
T1N0M0Any G
T2N0M0Any G
Stage IIIT3N0M0Any G
Stage IVT4N0M0Any G
Any TN1M0Any G
Any TAny NM1Any G


The BEST case scenario, according to the Partin tables, data widely accepted to be the best authority on whether the cancer has spread outside the prostate gland) is that 12% of men already have disease outside the prostate. If you have a palpable prostate and a biopsy shows a PSA of over 4, that jumps to 29%. A lot of doctors won't even send you for a biopsy until the PSA is over 4. That means 3 out of 10 men that have a PSA over 4 and a palpable nodule will have disease outside their prostate ALREADY.

I want to get tested (and do). If it comes back high I can then decided if I want to take the risk of the biopsy, and if subsequently it's cancer, I can decide if I want to take the risks of my chosen treatment. If I wait until I am symptomatic my options have immediately decreased as will my potential life span if I'm otherwise healthy. Metastatic prostate cancer is a horrible disease, but we can control localized prostate cancer.

Have your PSA tested, then you can make an informed decision. It's a cheap test. If you can't afford it, contact a local Prostate Cancer Awareness Group of which there are thousands, some of them offer free screenings.


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