Ever since the U.S Preventative Services Task Force issued a recommendation in 2012 that men not undergo the prostate-specific antigen test as a matter of routine screening for prostate cancer, confusion has reigned. This simple blood test had long been seen as a firstline of defense against this potentially deadly disease. Although noted for imperfections, the test remains the only one available for simple, widespread screening use. After hearing years of concerns and collecting data to support a change in its recommendations, the task for has eased back on its position. The resulting recommendation, however, may leave men more confused than they were to begin with.
The recent guideline change in regard to the PSA isn’t a total reversal of the task force’s recommendation against the test. The blood draw’s “D” rating, however, has been recommended for removal. That rating essentially took the test off the table as a routine screen by making it discouraged because it was believed to offer no net benefit. Instead, the newly drafted recommendation elevates the rating to a “C,” which means the PSA is acceptable for use on a patient-by-patient basis.
Although not the complete reversal some clinicians had hoped for, others say the recommended change is a step in the right direction. The PSA’s “D” rating was given because this blood test, although important detecting prostate cancer, can and does produce many false positives. When false positives arise, men who do not have prostate cancer may end up facing invasive follow up tests, such as biopsies. Essentially, the D grade came from a fear of over-diagnosis and the potential for over treatment.
While the “C” rating may not restore this test to its former status as a routine screen for early detection of prostate cancer, it does make its use more readily available. The PSA is designed to detect a specific antigen in the blood that is commonly associated with prostate cancer. When PSA levels are elevated, a prostate tumor may be present. The test fell into disfavor because PSA test results do have some accuracy concerns, but that is not always the case as many survivors can attest.
Here are a few things men need to know about the PSA:
* The test remains one of the simplest ways to detect prostate cancer early.
* Research has shown that false positive concerns may be lessened by repeating a test prior to undergoing more invasive diagnostics.
* The PSA can prove to be a lifesaving tool. With that in mind, it is recommended that all men discuss their personal risks for prostate cancer with their healthcare providers and make the determination for themselves if this test would be beneficial.