Men between ages 55 and 69 should decide with their doctor whether or not to screen for prostate cancer, according to new draft guidelines from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force — a more relaxed recommendation than the group’s opposition to prostate-specific antigen testing five years ago.
In 2012, the task force’s independent panel of expert volunteers recommended against PSA screening, saying the risks — like false positives and unnecessary treatment — outweigh the benefits. Now, according to draft guidelines unveiled Tuesday, it believes the benefits of detecting and treating a life-threatening cancer can balance out the risks, said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist who chaired the task force. Men should discuss the options with their physician to decide the best course of action, rather than automatically opt against the screening, commonly a blood test. The group still believes men over age 70 should not get screened.
“It’s important that we update our recommendations based on new science,” said Bibbins-Domingo, who conducts research at University of California-San Francisco.
Some of that new science supported the practice of active surveillance, which allows men who have a low risk of prostate cancer to delay or avoid aggressive treatments — which could result in impotence or incontinence, she said.
The task force recommendations are now available for public comment through May 8.
In 2016, nearly 181,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, roughly 11 percent of all new cancer cases nationwide, according to data from the National Cancer Institute, and that same year, the disease was linked to the deaths of more than 26,000 men.
The group with the highest death rates from prostate cancer were men ages 75 and older, the institute’s data showed.
Prostate cancer survivor Rick Davis said he is glad the opposition to screening has been relaxed, but he thinks all men should receive the prostate screening test, no matter how old they are.
“PSA screening should not be end-all, be-all,” said Davis, who works as a patient advocate with the organization Answer Cancer. “The PSA test is about information. It’s not about treatment.”
The screening test is not a cancer test, Davis said, but rather signals a man’s prostate may have problems and needs more attention. It should not be the only factor that leads to surgery, he added.