Prostate cancer cases top 40,000More men opting to have the PSA blood test
More than 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK every year, new figures show.
In 2009, around 40,800 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, compared with just 14,000 in 1989, according to the charity Cancer Research UK.
Much of the increase has been linked to more men opting to take the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, which measures the levels of a protein produced by the prostate that can be raised in men with the disease.
The PSA is the only blood test available that can indicate a man may have prostate cancer.
However, PSA levels can rise due to other factors, including urine or prostate infections, exercise and other benign prostate conditions. Around two-thirds of men with raised PSA levels do not have prostate cancer, but then undergo further tests to determine whether they have the disease.
The PSA test is also unable to distinguish between fast and slow-growing tumours, which means that some men may have unnecessary treatment for a cancer that would not have caused them problems in their lifetime.
For these reasons, in the UK the PSA test is not used as part of a national screening programme. But men who want a PSA test can ask their GP for one, who will then explain the pros and cons.
Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research UK's prostate cancer expert, said: "Accurately diagnosing and predicting the need for treatment of prostate cancer is fraught with difficulties and there is no escaping the fact that we need a better tool than PSA to help detect prostate cancers that actually need treating.
"Men need to be counselled about the upsides and downsides of having a PSA test and the uncertainties that it can raise.
"We urgently need to find better tests that tell us more about a man’s prostate cancer. Is the disease going to sit quietly in the background and never cause a problem or do we need to treat it aggressively?
"If we can accurately answer these questions, we could spare thousands of men unnecessary treatment that can lead to side effects like impotence and incontinence."
This article was published on Fri 4 May 2012
Image © Andrey Ushakov - Fotolia.com
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