Prostate cancer screening cuts deaths by halfBut more work needs to be done on early diagnosis
Screening for diseases such as cancer is often proposed as a cost-effective public health measure. But some critics argue that the costs can outweigh the benefits, for instance when healthy people are misdiagnosed as having the illness.
So a new study has looked at the effectiveness of screening for prostate cancer and it has found that it reduces deaths by almost half.
The 14-year study, which is still ongoing, began recruiting men between the ages of 50 and 65 years to either a screening or control group. Each group had almost 10,000 men. When men were diagnosed with symptoms that can lead to possible prostate cancer, they were offered additional tests such as digital rectal examination and prostate biopsies.
When the men in the study were followed up, the study found that death from prostate cancer had almost halved in the screening group compared to the control group.
Early detection rates were also much higher in the screened group, with only 46 cases of advanced prostate cancer, the control group having 87.
Leader of the study Jonas Hugosson, from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden commented that "In this trial prostate-cancer screening was well accepted by the general population and can result in a relevant reduction in cancer mortality, greater than that reported in screening for breast or colorectal cancer."
But these figures need to be put in overall perspective as he notes - "The risk of over diagnosis is less than previously reported, but still 12 men need to be diagnosed to save one life. Among men participating in the study at or below age 60, the risk of prostate cancer death was notably low with only a quarter of the expected rate of death from prostate cancer"
But as the benefit of screening for prostate cancer can take at least 10 years to take effect, there are doubts as to the benefits of screening all men over the age of 70. David E Neal, at the University of Cambridge, UK points out that the findings "show that in certain circumstances, PSA testing and early diagnosis reduces death from prostate cancer." However, he adds, "it does not imply that PSA screening programmes should now be introduced internationally."
The study took place at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and is published in Online First in The Lancet Oncology.
This article was published on Thu 1 July 2010
Image © Leah-Anne Thompson - Fotolia.com
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