Study raises questions about benefits of prostate screening

NHS Healthcare Organisation Looks To The Future
A doctor.
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Yearly screening tests do not appear to reduce deaths from prostate cancer, according to a new study released today.

More than 76,000 men were tracked for at least seven years at 10 national study sites, including the University of Minnesota.

Researchers found that men who had yearly PSA tests -- a blood test which screens for prostate cancer -- or digital rectal exams had essentially the same risk of dying from prostate cancer as men who didn't have the tests. They also found evidence that the screened men were treated unnecessarily.

Co-author of the study Timothy Church says the findings seem to confirm what smaller observational studies have been reporting about PSA tests.

"I think there was some concern that maybe PSA wasn't doing everything we were hoping it would do. And the answer so far, I think based on this study, is no," said Church. "At least in the short run, in the first seven to 10 years, we aren't seeing any significant reductions in mortality."

Church says even though the findings show no survival benefit to the tests, he can't advise men on whether they should skip the screening tests.

"There's no blanket recommendation that we can make. But we definitely can say that men should talk to their physicians about this issue and make the decision for themselves," said Church.

The study is published in the online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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