Controversial test 'can stop prostate cancer'

 

Three times as many men would end up with advanced prostate cancer if a controversial blood test widely criticised for unreliable diagnoses did not exist, a study suggests.

The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is commonly used in Britain and other countries to identify men at risk of prostate cancer. But critics argue that it frequently results in aggressive treatments which carry a risk of serious side-effects, even though the cancer may be benign and harmless.

Concerns about the accuracy of the PSA test have led to it being used on a case-by-case basis, usually involving men who have already complained of symptoms, rather than as a general screening.

The study, published in the online journal Cancer, analysed the incidence of advanced prostate cancer in the early 1980s, before the PSA test was introduced. It found that the test has resulted in a significant improvement in the early detection of cancers that would otherwise spread to other parts of the body.

The scientists said that doing away with the PSA test would likely result in three times as many men than at present developing an advanced stage of the disease, which spreads beyond the prostate gland before being diagnosed.

The study estimated that about 17,000 American men each year are being saved from progressing to advanced prostate cancer by the early detection of their disease with the help of the PSA test.

“Not doing the PSA test will result in many men presenting with far more advanced prostate cancer. And almost all men with metastasis at diagnosis will die from prostate cancer,” said Edward Messing of the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, a co-author of the study.

The test measures the amount of a protein called prostate-specific antigen in the bloodstream. Prostate cancer cells and normal prostate cells both produce the antigen, which varies in concentration between individuals and age groups, factors which make a definitive diagnosis difficult.

Prostate cancer is newly diagnosed in 41,000 British men each year and kills more than 10,000 patients annually. It is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the most common in men, accounting for a quarter of all new cases of male cancers.

The incidence of prostate cancer has increased significantly in recent years, helped by better diagnosis and reporting, partly as a result of using the PSA blood test.

Medical authorities in both the US and Britain have advised against using the PSA test for general population screening because they say it would lead to unnecessary treatment of non-aggressive forms of the cancer in men who as a result would be at risk of side-effects, such as incontinence or erectile dysfunction.

Owen Sharp, chief executive of the charity Prostate Cancer UK, said: “Although recent research does suggest that screening for prostate cancer may reduce the number of deaths from this disease, we still believe that the potential negative impact of screening outweighs its potential positives. As screening can potentially lead to over-diagnosis and unnecessary treatment we do not currently support the introduction of a national screening programme.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Life and Style
food + drink
Voices
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959
voicesWard committed no crime, and the truth is still being covered up, writes Geoffrey Robertson QC
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
Sport
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas