Men's health * 50+ health * Healthy living

A single test could prevent prostate cancer deaths

A single test could prevent prostate cancer deaths Test men once they reach 60, say experts

A single blood test at age 60 could identify the men most likely to develop and die from prostate cancer, scientists claim.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers among men worldwide. Each year in the UK, around 35,000 men are diagnosed with the disease and more than 10,000 die from it.

Although many countries use the PSA blood test to screen for prostate cancer, it's use is controversial as the test is not specific for prostate cancer.

The PSA test measures the amount of a protein called prostate specific antigen, which is produced by the prostate gland. Although the levels of PSA are often high in men with prostate cancer, other medical conditions and general ageing can cause levels to rise.

This means that two out of three men with raised PSA levels don't prostate cancer, but they often undergo more invasive tests as a result of their PSA test.

In addition the test cannot differentiate between slow rowing prostate tumours which may not affect a man's lifespan and potentially life threatening fast growing ones.

However, a study published in today's British Medical Journal found that a that a single prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level test at age 60 is a strong predictor of which men are most likely to die from prostate cancer.

Professor Hans Lilja and a team of scientists from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Medical Centre, New York tested blood samples from 1,167 men at 60 years of age in 1981, and tracked their health up to the age of 85.

They found that nine out of ten deaths due to prostate cancer occurred in men with highest PSA levels at age 60, whereas men with average or low PSA levels had negligible rates of prostate cancer deaths by the time they reached 85.

This means that at least half of men aged 60 and older would not require further prostate cancer screening, which would cut down on over-diagnosis and unnecessary treatment.

Professor Lilja wrote: "Our findings suggest that 60 year old man with low concentrations can be reassured that even if they do harbour cancer, it is unlikely to become apparent during their lifetime and even less likely to become life threatening.

He also wrote that men with higher concentrations of PSA in their blood should be carefully monitored.

This article was published on Wed 15 September 2010

Image © Andrey Ushakov -

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