Clearing up confusion about prostate cancer screening

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Earlier this month, the U.S. preventive services task force decided that instead of across the board PSA blood tests to screen for prostate cancer, it should be a discussion between each man and his doctor.

Dr. Brian Nicholson, a Urologist at Covenant Health, says that has left many men confused about a test that has long been the standard by age 50, according to the American Cancer Society.

He says the doctor/patient discussion is very important but don't misunderstand the power of the PSA.

He explains, "In 1985, before we had prostate cancer screening, there was a 75 percent chance of living 5 years with the diagnosis. Now the survival rate is up to close to 98 percent."  Dr. Nicholson says that the PSA is a great test, adding there's no question that men who are high risk should get that PSA screening by age 40. High risk includes men who are black or have a family history of prostate cancer.

He says the reason this is so important is men have a one in seven lifetime risk of coming down with the disease and every year, there are more than 160,000 new cases diagnosed.

So, why would the U.S. Preventive Services change the PSA screening guidelines?

Dr. Nicholson says the problem comes because the PSA is so sensitive, it may point to cancer even when it is not cancer. He explains, "Most men who have prostate cancer have an elevated PSA. It's [PSA test] weakness is that it's not very specific in that there are some men who have an elevated PSA but do not have prostate cancer. My job is to figure out who's who."

Bottom line, Dr. Nicholson says PSA is still a great way to find prostate cancer early when it is curable.  Don't ignore an opportunity to talk to your doctor – even as a young man - to make a plan for finding cancer early if it comes as you age.

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