The PSA Test And Cancer Patient Longevity
As many of you will most likely hear, September is prostate cancer awareness month. We’ve commented previously on the stir caused by U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s decision to downgrade PSA screening as a critical part of men’s preventative health. Many others, including the American Cancer Society, share our view that PSA tests need to remain a priority, with men in high-risk groups getting regular screenings starting at age 40 and other men getting their first test by age 50. In a new study, Texas researchers have found that PSA screenings may have contributed to a dramatic rise in prostate cancer detection during its span as a routine procedure, according to the Cancer Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
The protein-specific antigen test was introduced in 1986 as a way for urologists to track the progress of prostate cancer treatment and check for recurrences, and by 1994 the FDA had also approved it as a diagnostic screening procedure. During the late 1980s and early 1990s the average survival time for a patient beginning treatment rose from 30 months to 33 months. But from 1995 to 2009, after the PSA began to be used as a diagnostic tool, the survival rate jumped to 49 months. These figures indicate that the early detection made possible by PSA testing has had a major impact on our ability to treat the disease successfully.
Of course, this result may not be entirely due to the availability of the PSA test. Cancer treatments and health care in general have advanced since 1985, and so has public awareness of prostate cancer and its symptoms. But the numbers are there, and they make a compelling case for the PSA’s contributions to greater patient longevity.
We should note that as an industry we are working on a better test than the PSA. In the meantime, PSA is the only test we have and it is a very good indicator of cancer. The screening tool in and of itself is not a harmful test. It is what you do with the results of the PSA test that can carry certain risks. It is important to initiate conversations with your doctor about PSA screening starting at age 40. Men with certain risk factors, such as African-American men and all men with a family history of prostate cancer should be screened earlier by a urologist. Most men should get at least one test in their 40s and then every year starting at 50. For more information, go to www.urologyaustin.com