Screening for Prostate Cancer Doesn't Save Lives (British Medical Journal)

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The BBC is reporting that a two-decade-long study published in the British Medical Journal suggests that getting tested for prostate cancer isn't helpful. Dr. Anne Mackie of the UK National Screening Committee offered the following strong words: "At the moment the potential harms significantly outweigh the benefits of screening." Here's more from the BBC's story:

This latest study was carried out in Norrkoping in Sweden. It followed 9,026 men who were in their 50s or 60s in 1987.

Nearly 1,500 men were randomly chosen to be screened every three years between 1987 and 1996. The first two tests were performed by digital rectal examination and then by prostate specific antigen testing.

The report concludes: "After 20 years of follow-up, the rate of death from prostate cancer did not differ significantly between men in the screening group and those in the control group."

The favoured method of screening is the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test.

However, around 15% of men with normal PSA levels will have prostate cancer and two-thirds of men with high levels of PSA do not in fact have prostate cancer.

One study has suggested that to prevent one death from prostate cancer you would have to screen 1,410 men and treat 48 of them.

Dr Anne Mackie, programmes director of the UK National Screening Committee, said: "This evidence provides further support for the recommendation the Committee made in November not to screen for prostate cancer at this time."

Read the full story at BBC.co.uk.

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Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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