Prostate cancer screening answers

October 1, 2009 9:11:19 PM PDT
Recently, there have been studies questioning whether routine screening for prostate cancer saves lives or if it leads to unnecessary treatments. Free prostate cancer screening events were held at Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center, Methodist Hospital, Main Line Hospital, and many others centers across the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys.

Most were packed with dozens of men who believe screening can save lives.

"You cannot go and then they catch it later or you can catch it early and it can save your life," Jeff Harvey of North Philadelphia said.

But unlike other screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, the American Cancer Society doesn't support routine testing for prostate cancer at this time. That's because over the years, there's been growing controversy on whether screening really saves lives.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows getting routine prostate cancer screenings, including a prostate specific antigen or PSA blood test and a digital rectal exam, does not reduce the death rate from the cancer.

Other studies have shown screening can lead to unnecessary treatment.

So why get screened?

"I think I have that conversation with people once a week," Dr. James Bollinger an urologist at Paoli Hospital said.

Dr. Bollinger says while some studies don't prove the benefits of screening, history does.

"Before we had PSAs, 75-percent of men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer had it already outside the capsule of the prostate, which was you could treat it, but you couldn't necessarily cure it," Dr. Bollinger said.

Now he says since the PSA, that number is down to 25-percent.

That hits home to the Action News family, one of our own Gary Papa was in that 25-percent. He was only 49 when he was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer, meaning it had already spread.

Dr. Bollinger says while Gary's case is rare it drives home his message that all men at age 40 should at least talk to their doctor and get a baseline screening. This is especially important for men with a family history of the cancer and for African-Americans.

Isaac Harley of North Philadelphia says his wife urged him to be screened.

"She's concerned about my health; she's my doctor outside of my doctor," Harley said.

As for other questions, some experts believe many tumors that may never grow are unnecessarily treated and that can lead to problems such as impotence or incontinence.

Dr. Bollinger admits it can be difficult to tell if a tumor will cause harm or not, still he suggests men get screened and if necessary get a biopsy, and then talk to your doctor about your choices.

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