Common prostate cancer test seen as unreliable

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A prostate cancer awareness ribbon

There will be a lot of interest in cancer screening after Steve Jobs' death, and now there is a major change coming is in the the screening test for prostate cancer.

CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports that a key government panel is set to recommend that healthy men no longer receive the PSA, or prostate specific antigen, blood test.

Almost 241,000 cases of prostate cancer, and almost 34,000 resulting deaths are expected this year. Every year, thousands of Americans receive screening with a blood test called PSA in the hopes of detecting and treating prostate cancer early. But the test has come under fire in recent years, and next week a government task force is expected to make a startling announcement: men should not receive routine PSA screening.

The PSA blood test has become more and more controversial over the past decade because it is notoriously poor at identifying cancer. The problem is that PSA can rise from causes other than cancer, such as infections and an enlarged prostate. And even when cancer is found, it may be growing so slowly that it never would have caused a problem.

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For every 100 men, 16 will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime but only three will die from it.

Studies have shown you need to test a lot of men and do a lot of biopsies to save one life.

In one study, 1,410 men needed to get PSA screening to find 48 cancers and save one life over nine years.

Treatment of prostate cancer can cause serious side-effects, such as urinary incontinence and sexual dysfunction. A panel reviewing the major PSA studies for the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force concludes "PSA-based screening results in small or no reduction in prostate cancer-specific mortality."

The likely new recomendation will be that PSA screenings are not carried out routinely, but are still used for those with a family history of prostate cancer, as well as those in remission testing against its return.

  • Jon Lapook
    Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook