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Prostate Cancer Screenings May Have No Mortality Benefits

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Regular cancer screenings are sometimes touted as life-saving measures, but a new study finds there was no mortality benefit for men who had prostate cancer screenings compared with those who didn’t.

In the decade-long Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer (PLCO) Screening Trial, men aged 55-74 with no prior history of these cancers underwent annual Prostate Specific Antigens (PSA) testing for six years and annual digital rectal exams for four years, while those in the control group received their usual medical care, which for some men also included screening.

When this study was deemed too short to determine longer-range outcomes, the men were followed for an additional three years. And although researchers found a statistically significant 12 percent increase in the incidence rate of prostate cancer and a non-statistically significant decrease in the incidence of high-grade prostate cancer in the screening group, there was no difference in mortality rates between that group and the one that had typical medical care.

Specifically, of the 4,250 prostate cancer case patients diagnosed in the screening group, 10.7 percent died of causes other than the cancer types studied, while 9.9 percent of the 3,815 men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer in the control group also died of other causes.

The authors of the study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, wrote, “Improvements in prostate cancer treatment are probably at least in part responsible for declining prostate cancer mortality rates. Even if life is only prolonged by therapy, the opportunities for competing causes of death increase, especially among older men.”

The United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group that advises the government on health related issues, recommended against regular screening for prostate cancer in men under the age of 75. The agency found screening caused more harm than it saved lives as a side effects of screening includes impotence and urinary incontinence.

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