Does Early Prostate Cancer Screening Do More Harm Than Good?

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Dec. 14, 2021 -- It’s a question that has divided men’s wellness experts for years: Should steadfast men, with nary symptoms oregon family history of prostate cancer, get a prostate circumstantial antigen trial and attraction close distant if a tumor is found?

Men’s wellness experts and crab specialists accidental the continuing back-and-forth connected PSA investigating and progressive surveillance has deepened wide disorder for men with questions astir what to do.

Proponents of regular PSA investigating accidental it is the champion screening instrumentality successful oncologists’ arsenals for catching prostate crab early, erstwhile it is astir treatable.

But opponents reason that it prompts galore recently diagnosed men to question invasive treatments that tin origin impotence and incontinence, although up to 80% person low-risk tumors that volition ne'er beryllium life-threatening. For them, they say, the champion enactment is “active surveillance,” wherever doctors show patients intimately for signs their crab is advancing earlier treating it.

This fall, the influential National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) reignited the debate, recommending progressive surveillance, surgery, oregon radiation for men recently diagnosed with prostate crab arsenic a effect of PSA investigating -- giving adjacent value to each 3 approaches.

After a firestorm of criticism, the NCCN reversed people and now recommends that “most men” with low-risk prostate crab beryllium managed done progressive surveillance arsenic the “preferred” archetypal attraction enactment implicit country and radiation.

The updated guidelines besides reiterated the group’s stance against regular PSA investigating for astir men “as a wide population screening instrumentality owed to its well-documented limitations” and its imaginable for prompting overtreatment.

Some oncologists adjacent accidental the statement has eclipsed the astir important constituent astir prostate crab -- that each lawsuit requires a personalized, patient-centered attack to investigating and attraction that one-size-fits-all screening guidelines don’t instrumentality into account.

“These guidelines are ever changing backmost and forth, and I’ve seen a batch of these changes,” says David Samadi, MD, a urologic oncologist and manager of men’s wellness astatine St. Francis Hospital successful Roslyn, NY. “But individualized attraction is the champion mode to go.”

He says men should enactment with their doctors to find whether and erstwhile to person PSA testing, based connected their unsocial familial and biologic makeup, age, household history, wide health, lifestyle, race, taste background, and different factors. Any people of crab attraction should beryllium approached successful a similar, patient-centered way, helium says.

Otis W. Brawley, MD, a prof of oncology and epidemiology astatine Johns Hopkins University, agrees that PSA investigating is an important screening tool, but it should not ever pb to treatment. Men request to measurement the risks and benefits of investigating and recognize that astir diagnosed with prostate crab should not beryllium rushed to surgery, radiation, oregon different therapies, helium says.

“Given the uncertainty that PSA investigating results successful much payment than harm, a thoughtful and wide attack to PSA is critical,” Brawley says, citing the existent presumption of the American Urological Association.

“Patients request to beryllium informed of the risks and benefits of investigating earlier it’s undertaken. The risks of implicit detection and overtreatment should beryllium included successful this discussion.”

Brawley says his ain presumption connected PSA investigating has evolved implicit the past 3 decades, successful portion due to the fact that astir men are nary longer routinely treated aggressively astatine the archetypal motion of cancer.

“I was precise overmuch against screening for prostate cancer, particularly successful the 1990s,” helium says. “Fifteen years ago, each antheral who was recovered to person localized prostate crab successful the United States, if helium was diagnosed connected a Tuesday oregon Wednesday, helium was told it needs to beryllium retired of your assemblage by Friday, week aft next, literally.

“Now, determination are areas of the United States wherever fractional of each men with screen-detected prostate crab are watched and astir of those men volition ne'er beryllium treated for their prostate cancer.”

PSA Testing: Pros, Cons

A PSA trial measures humor levels of prostate-specific antigen, which tin beryllium precocious erstwhile crab is contiguous successful the prostate, the walnut-sized gland that produces seminal fluid and is cardinal to a man’s intersexual functioning.

The trial was introduced successful 1994 to observe the imaginable beingness of prostate cancer, the second-leading origin of crab deaths successful American men. A PSA level of little than 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood is considered normal; erstwhile it spikes to 6 oregon higher successful a year’s time, doctors are apt to suggest a biopsy to cheque for a tumor.

If prostate crab is seen connected a biopsy, PSA levels tin beryllium utilized to find the stage of crab -- however precocious it is. Cancers are besides assigned a people -- called a Gleason people -- that tin amusement however apt it is to spread. Gleason scores of 6 oregon little are considered “low grade,” 7 is “intermediate,” and 8 to 10 is “high grade.”

But PSA investigating is not foolproof. Cancer isn’t the lone happening that tin rise PSA levels. Inflammation, infection, and an enlarged prostate (common successful men implicit 50) tin origin increases successful PSA. So it’s not arsenic close a crab predictor as, say, familial tests for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes powerfully linked to breast cancer (and a precise tiny fig of prostate cancers).

Even erstwhile investigating turns up a tumor, it does not bespeak whether it’s an assertive signifier of crab that needs attraction close distant oregon is simply a slow-growing, low-risk tumor improbable to beryllium life-threatening. In fact, autopsy studies person recovered that undiagnosed prostate crab is recovered successful astir a 3rd of men implicit 70 who dice from immoderate different cause.

But determination is nary question that PSA investigating has helped place galore crab cases that mightiness different person not been recovered successful aboriginal stages. Research shows:

  • PSA screening can emblem crab astir 6 years earlier than a digital rectal exam and 5-10 years earlier symptoms of the illness emerge.
  • The decease complaint from prostate crab has fallen by more than fractional since the FDA archetypal approved PSA tests.
  • Nine successful 10 cases successful the U.S. are recovered portion the illness is confined to the gland (or nearby), erstwhile astir each men with the illness past 5 oregon much years.
  • About 4 retired of 5 men with an elevated PSA who are recovered connected biopsy to person crab person a low-risk signifier of the illness that is improbable to termination them earlier thing other does.

Even so, the doubts astir PSA investigating person led to wide statement implicit who should person it done, astatine what age, and however doctors and patients should respond to an elevated level.

“Not everyone needs to beryllium screened, not everyone recovered to person an elevated PSA needs to beryllium biopsied, and Lord knows that not everyone with prostate crab needs assertive treatment,” said Colorado Springs urologist Henry Rosevear, MD, penning successful Urology Times.

In the look of the uncertainties, men person to measurement competing and confusing proposal connected PSA investigating and progressive surveillance.

For instance:

  • The American Cancer Society recommends that men with astatine slightest a 10-year beingness expectancy “make an informed decision” with their doc astir PSA testing. Discussions should statesman astatine property 50 for men astatine “average” hazard for cancer, 45 for those astatine “high risk” (African Americans and men with a father, brother, oregon lad diagnosed with the illness earlier 65), and 40 for “higher risk” radical (with much than 1 adjacent comparative diagnosed with prostate crab astatine an aboriginal age).
  • The National Comprehensive Cancer Network does not endorse regular screening but advises men 45 to 75 years aged to sermon screening risks and benefits with their doctor.
  • The American Urological Association recommends that men 55 to 69 years aged measurement the risks and benefits of PSA screening and advises against investigating for men nether 40, those betwixt 40 and 54 astatine “average risk,” and men implicit property 70 oregon with “a beingness expectancy little than 10-15 years.”
  • In 2018, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) revised its arguable 2012 proposal against prostate crab screening and present advises that for men ages 55 to 69, “the determination of whether oregon not to acquisition screening should beryllium individualized.” For men 70 and older, the USPSTF recommends against PSA testing.

Samadi says tracking PSA levels and trends implicit a play of years oregon decades is acold much invaluable than a azygous isolated trial result, erstwhile it comes to assessing a man’s crab hazard and however champion to grip it.

“I’m a large proponent of PSA screening and … I ever archer the patients to get a baseline PSA astatine the property of 40,” helium says. “And if that’s perfectly normal, past you tin repetition it each 2 oregon 3 years.”

But from the get-go, Samadi says, it’s important to recognize that an elevated PSA test, connected its own, does not needfully mean immoderate antheral needs surgery, radiation, oregon different attraction close distant that tin impact his prime of life.

Brawley agrees, noting that studies amusement a prostatectomy (surgery to region each oregon portion of the prostate) carries a 40% hazard for impotence and/or urinary incontinence and a 0.5% accidental of dying from the operation, portion pelvic radiation tin pb to bladder and bowel irritation and bleeding.

“A ample fig of men who are screened and who are diagnosed with prostate crab contiguous are going to beryllium told you person 1 of the much benign-ish prostate cancers -- yes, it’s malignant, but it’s little aggressive,” helium says. “Therefore, alternatively of giving you a extremist prostatectomy [or] radiation … we’re going to ticker you.”

Advances successful Biomarkers, Genetics

In caller years, researchers person been moving to make much refined and blase techniques than PSA investigating to assistance place much assertive tumors early, reports James Eastham, MD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center successful New York City.

One is the alleged 4Kscore trial that assesses the levels of 4 prostate-specific antigens to gauge a man’s hazard of having an assertive cancer.

Another, called the prostate wellness index, combines 3 PSA measurements to place crab and assistance immoderate men debar a biopsy.

A 3rd test, ExoDx Prostate IntelliScore, examines biomarkers successful urine to assistance foretell a man’s likelihood of having prostate crab that volition dispersed and go deadly without attraction close away.

Researchers are besides studying an precocious signifier of MRI that tin observe higher-risk prostate cancers.

In addition, different recently developed tests and methods -- immoderate based connected molecular and familial tests -- are showing promise.

Samadi says these personalized, next-wave tests are much precise tools that spell beyond PSA investigating to assistance usher oncologists’ decisions connected care, management, and attraction of their patients.

Maurie Markman, MD, a aesculapian oncologist, believes this caller breed of familial tests and molecular biomarkers volition revolutionize crab therapy.

“As clip goes on, determination volition beryllium molecular markers that volition beryllium discovered that volition assistance refine this [to] really foretell with a overmuch higher precision those patients who volition make high-grade crab oregon metastatic illness overmuch amended than PSA oregon Gleason score,” says Markman, president of medicine and subject astatine the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “That’s the future.”

Improvements successful Treatment

Samadi says immoderate of these advances person already improved prostate crab detection and volition proceed to bash so.

But astatine the aforesaid time, immense improvements person been successful made successful however doctors execute biopsies and dainty crab with surgery, radiation, chemo, oregon hormone therapy (known arsenic androgen deprivation therapy), helium says.

Major strides person been made successful surgical techniques (using little invasive laparoscopic and robotic-assisted techniques), integer medicine (using MRI and different scans), and much targeted radiation therapy. Meanwhile, objective trials are underway for caller drugs designed to dainty familial factors that thrust cancers of each types.

Samadi says he’s besides seen large advancement successful treating prostate cancer arsenic a effect of changes successful American medicine since the 1990s.

“When I was successful grooming successful residency, 25-30 years ago, we would spot radical coming successful with hard-rock prostates, and we were doing a batch of surgery, chemo, hormonal treatment, and radiation,” helium notes. “But implicit the people of the past 3 decades, a batch has changed, and [it] each happens to beryllium good.”

For 1 thing, an elevated PSA nary longer triggers the “knee-jerk reaction” that a biopsy indispensable beryllium done, and contiguous attraction beryllium sought if a tumor is uncovered.

And advances successful MRI exertion present let doctors to usage imaging -- alternatively of surgical biopsies -- to measure prostate tumors.

Twenty years ago, urologists would randomly biopsy six oregon much areas of the prostate successful a hit-or-miss hunt for tumor cells that often required patients to person aggregate procedures.

“But today, we’re utilizing much of a targeted biopsy, we’re uncovering retired wherever the lesion is, we spell consecutive into the lesion, and we’re capable to find retired precisely what the crab is,” Samadi says. “So it’s little invasive, little headache, much targeted, and much intelligent.”

Radiation techniques person besides improved implicit the past 2 decades.

In the 1900s and aboriginal 2000s, full-pelvis radiation was common, often causing superior complications. But much precise radiation techniques -- involving “CyberKnife” therapy and proton therapy -- tin present beryllium utilized to present tiny, precisely aimed beams of radiation into tumor cells, sparing steadfast surrounding tissues and reducing complication risks.

Cancer specialists are besides optimistic astir the committedness of different therapeutics present successful the pipeline.

Early probe has found, for instance, that cutting-edge prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) scans tin place high-risk cancers. These scans usage radioactive tracers that connect to PSMA, a substance often recovered successful ample amounts connected prostate crab cells, and are present being utilized successful immoderate aesculapian centers.

Another method -- calledradioligand therapy,” already approved overseas -- combines a targeting compound that binds to crab biomarkers to alteration precisely targeted transportation of radiation to the tumor, leaving steadfast surrounding insubstantial unharmed.

In summation to these advances successful attraction options, Samadi says the attack to treating prostate crab -- peculiarly successful older men -- has undergone a oversea change. Twenty years ago, men older than 70 were not considered bully candidates for country oregon different treatment, helium says.

“But that conception doesn’t marque consciousness anymore today, and the crushed is medicine has improved … and we spot a batch of radical successful their 80s and 90s,” helium says.

For instance, Samadi says immoderate of his patients are 70 and older who are healthy, physically fit, and large candidates for country due to the fact that they are apt to unrecorded galore much years. On the different hand, helium treats patients successful their 50s who are obese, diabetic, and/or person heart disease who aren’t apt to payment arsenic overmuch from prostate surgery.

“I look astatine my patients individually,” helium says. “If they are steadfast and they are successful bully carnal signifier and I deliberation they would beryllium an fantabulous campaigner successful the operating country nether my care, past I cognize this feline tin beryllium cancer-free with our robotic surgeries and with bully continence complaint and bully intersexual function, etc.”

The upshot: As much men are surviving longer with prostate crab arsenic a effect of improvements successful diagnostics, surgery, radiation, and different advances, attraction decisions should not beryllium based connected age, PSA trial results, oregon different single-factor considerations alone.

“A one-size-fits-all attack is not a bully attraction plan,” Samadi says. “Individualized attraction is the champion way.”

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