This story did a few things better than its AP competition:
But AP did a better job quantifying harms.
Neither story discussed the costs of PSA tests or provided estimates of the costs for following up an increase in PSA with a biopsy. These are significant cost issues, which warranted at least a line in the stories.
PSA velocity was initially recommended to help men with abnormal PSA values (> 4) make decisions about whether to undergo biopsy because most of these men don’t have cancer. Because most elevated PSA values are false positives, PSA velocity could help men avoid unnecessary biopsies. However, recommendations began emerging to use PSA velocity to guide biopsy decisions for men with normal PSA values. No evidence ever supported these recommendations and now a well-designed analysis clearly indicates that using PSA velocity in men with normal PSA values will lead to even more unnecessary biopsies.
It was also important that this story dropped back and discussed the option of not being screened at all – thanks to the contribution Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society made to the story.
The story did not discuss the costs of PSA tests or provide estimates of the costs for following up an increase in PSA with a biopsy. These are significant cost issues, which warranted at least a line in the story.
The story didn’t quantify the potential reduction in biopsies.
The competing AP story was much better on this point, reporting that using rising PSA levels, 1 in 7 men would have a prostate biopsy as compared with 1 in 20 men based solely on high PSA level. This suggests that change in PSA level results in 13/20 unnecessary prostate biopsies.
The story could have provided more detail on some of the possible complications resulting from prostate biopsies.
It did mention anxiety from tracking PSA levels over time.
The story included the number of men that were studied and that the men studied had taken part in a prostate cancer prevention study.
Better than its AP competition, the story mentioned that the study of PSA velocity only included those individuals who were in the placebo arm of a drug trial.
But neither story explained that this was a highly selected population – men with abnormal digital rectal exams and PSA values greater than 3 were excluded. This information is important for understanding how generalizable the result of the study might be.
The story did not engage in overt disease mongering.
Two independent sources were quoted.
The story contrasted using change in PSA level versus simply the PSA level for their impact on prostate biopsy recommendations and subsequent diagnosis of prostate cancer.
More importantly, much more explicity than the competing AP story, this story (through the words of Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society) addressed the option of not being screened at all. Excerpts:
It’s clear from the story that PSA tests are readily available.
The story made clear that the study was examining the relative merit of relying on a change in PSA level as indicated in some current guidelines.
Does not appear to rely solely on a news release.