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Bernadine Healy and the President's prostate

Should Obama Get a PSA Test? On Prostate Cancer Screening and Comparative Effectiveness. That’s the headline of Dr. Bernadine Healy’s blog entry on the US News & World Report website.

I felt obliged to respond online with a comment in reaction. I wrote:

Dr. Healy writes: “Prostate cancer mortality rates have plummeted in the United States over the past 20 years, coinciding with the widespread use of PSAs. (No such drop has occurred in Europe, where PSA screening, by policy, is uncommon.) This suggests—though it certainly doesn’t prove—that PSA screening saves lives.”

However, if more silent cancers that never would have killed American men are now being found because of more American PSA testing, then by default, the mortality rate would plummet. You’re now calling more things “cancer” – many of which wouldn’t have killed a man anyway. Dr. Barry Kramer of the National Institutes of Health calls it a pseudo-epidemic. So Dr. Healy’s example certainly DOESN’T prove that PSA screening saves lives.

And the entire premise of the article about whether the President should get a PSA test – while provocative and probably meant to catch eyeballs – misses the conclusion most experts reached after the recent studies. When evidence raises so many questions about PSA screening, it becomes essential that a man discuss the potential benefits AND harms with his own caregiver. It’s not an item up for debate by a magazine or by a urologist who won’t even see the President.

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