EACH year some 30 million American men undergo testing for prostate-specific antigen, an enzyme made by the prostate. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1994, the P.S.A. test is the most commonly used tool for detecting prostate cancer……
Prostate cancer may get a lot of press, but consider the numbers: American men have a 16 percent lifetime chance of receiving a diagnosis of prostate cancer, but only a 3 percent chance of dying from it. That’s because the majority of prostate cancers grow slowly. In other words, men lucky enough to reach old age are much more likely to die with prostate cancer than to die of it.
Even then, the test is hardly more effective than a coin toss. As I’ve been trying to make clear for many years now, P.S.A. testing can’t detect prostate cancer and, more important, it can’t distinguish between the two types of prostate cancer — the one that will kill you and the one that won’t…..
So why is it still used? Because drug companies continue peddling the tests and advocacy groups push “prostate cancer awareness” by encouraging men to get screened….
I never dreamed that my discovery four decades ago would lead to such a profit-driven public health disaster. The medical community must confront reality and stop the inappropriate use of P.S.A. screening. Doing so would save billions of dollars and rescue millions of men from unnecessary, debilitating treatments.
Source: The Great Prostate Mistake, op-ed by Richard Ablin who discovered PSA in the ’70s
A reminder of one of the many reasons why universal health care makes sense.
In the current US system, doctors prescribe tests and treatments they – quite often – know are not needed or are likely to not work. They do it because of pressures and benefits received from interest groups, and because they expect their patients to feel better if something – preferably elaborate and expensive – is done. And how do they get away with it? The insurance companies pick up the tab.
In Europe and other places with universal health care, there is a much stronger incentive to use procedures that are appropriate to the person and situation, and known to work.