In recent months, health policy experts and medical professionals have argued back and forth over the use of PSA tests to detect and diagnose prostate cancer. How the issue is resolved could affect thousands of men each year and help define detection and treatment standards for this serious disease.
PSA is short for prostate-specific antigen, a protein that is produced by the prostate gland; high PSA levels are an indicator of prostate cancer. Healthcare professionals test PSA levels by taking a blood sample and sending it to a lab for analysis, then confirming the results with a biopsy.
Conflicting PSA viewpoints
Some experts believe these tests do little to save men’s lives. Earlier this year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advised men to avoid PSA testing, claiming it had a negligible impact on mortality rates. Furthermore, in some cases it led to additional medical problems from unnecessary treatment of minor tumors. According to the study, about 1,000 to 1,300 men die each year from complications associated with treatments prompted by PSA screenings.
On the other hand, another recent study suggests that the United States would see three times as many diagnoses of advanced prostate cancer each year without PSA testing, most of which would be fatal. These tests allow some of those cases to be diagnosed earlier, improving the prognosis for treatment. This study supports PSA testing as a screening alternative that can provide an earlier diagnosis and greater opportunities for treatment.
There is no doubt that PSA tests are accurate and help catch prostate cancer early. The debate over the method centers on whether screenings actually prevent cancer deaths. In addition, critics of the test argue that in some cases the ensuing treatments and their side effects – including impotence, incontinence and a greater risk of subsequent medical errors – are worse than the cancer.
Prostate Cancer Concerns
While experts and doctors grapple over the best method to test for prostate cancer, the disease continues to take a toll on men. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 28,000 men in the United States have died from prostate cancer so far in 2012.
That number is especially disturbing because prostate cancer is so highly treatable if it is detected early. If the cancer is found and treated before it has a chance to spread the cure rate is well above 90 percent.
Because prostate cancer shows no early symptoms or warning signs, it is especially important that men receive regular screenings starting at age 50 for those at average risk and age 40 for those at higher risk. Annual screenings allow your health care provider to track your health and risk over time, which should allow them to find and treat prostate cancer as early as possible.
However, a doctor’s ability to treat the disease relies on the tools they use to detect it. If a doctor fails to conduct a test that could detect the presence of cancer, or uses a test known to produce false diagnoses, it could lead to unnecessary treatments – or no treatment at all when it is necessary.
Diagnostic errors can have serious implications for a patient’s care and recovery. A missed or delayed diagnosis could mean more time in the hospital, extra surgery, an inability to return to work and unnecessary pain and suffering for you and your family.
If you or a loved one has suffered from an injury at the hands of a medical professor’s mistake or negligence, including misdiagnosis, consider speaking with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.