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Prostate Cancer Testing Rates Down, Metastatic Cases Rise

The incidence rate of low-grade prostate cancer cases is down across the country while the rate of advanced cases is rising. Those findings come from data collected after a several-year period during which the routine screening tool, known as the prostate specific antigen test, was taken out of the recommendation loop. Knocked for a high false positive rate and concerns related to over-diagnosis, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force took the PSA blood test off the table for routine screening. While technically still available to men, the test was no longer being suggested by doctors and insurers as a result of the task force’s recommendation.

An analysis of data collected between 2004 and 2013 reveal what may be rather negative impacts from the PSA falling into disfavor without a viable screening replacement. The numbers collected from the National Cancer Database show that the cases of metastatic prostate cancer increased dramatically between 2004 and 2013. The annual number of new cases of advanced prostate cancer was reported to be 72 percent higher in 2013 than in 2004. The number of low-risk cases diagnosed, however, has declined.

Whether the numbers represent a direct correlation between a lack of routine screening or not, they do cast light on the importance of tests like the PSA for detecting cancer in its earliest stages. Metastatic cancer is a later stage form of this disease that has managed to spread. Tools like the PSA, although imperfect, enable detection in much earlier, more treatable stages when their use is routine.

Given the rise of metastatic cases and other concerns raised in recent years, the task force recently relaxed its recommendation in regard to the PSA. This screening tool isn’t back on the list of recommended annual screenings, but the task force is recommending its use on a case-by-case basis for men at higher risk.

Prostate cancer is estimated to strike more than 160,000 American men in the coming year. Routine screening can and does save lives. To find out more, men should talk to their healthcare providers directly.