A clinical prostate image

A clinical prostate image Credit: BUSINESS WIRE/

Reflexive opposition to changes in familiar medical care is understandable, but it should be resisted. That goes for the outcry over the recent recommendation that healthy men no longer routinely get PSA blood tests to check for prostate cancer. Unless we're open to scientific review of common tests and procedures, it will be difficult to improve care or control costs.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found routine prostate-specific antigen tests don't save lives and lead to unnecessary chemotherapy, radiation or surgeries that can cause complications such as impotence and incontinence. Eight in 10 positive PSA tests are false. And when cancerous tumors are detected, many are so slow-growing that, left untreated, patients would have no symptoms and likely die of unrelated causes.

Still, the task force was so wary of a repeat of the blowback that greeted its 2009 recommendation against routine mammograms for women in their 40s, that it delayed issuing the PSA recommendation for two years. As expected, it has found opposition: The American Urological Association expressed concern it will do more harm than good.

Last year 32,050 U.S. men died of prostate cancer, a fraction of the 299,200 male cancer deaths. Men in high-risk groups, such as blacks or those with a family history of the disease, should talk with their doctors about the value of PSA screening for them. But it's in our national interest, medically and financially, not to dismiss evidence that a familiar test is hazardous to our health.


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