Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fear Based Medicine?

These days, men above a certain age are urged to have regular screenings for prostate cancer, even if they have no syptoms or family history. Is it really worth it? Before answering, you may want to look at the evidence:

The ugly truth about prostate cancer testing is it doesn't work. The most common test, a blood test known as PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) is terribly inaccurate. Men who have been tested have no better survival rate than men who have not. ....

OK, so what's the problem? Men get tested, no harm no foul? Actually there are lots of problems. First they aren't free - PSA tests range in cost from $70 - $200, dollars that could be saved or spent on more effective medical services. OK, what happens if you decide the heck with the cost, I'm going to get a PSA test. The PSA level can be abnormal even when a man does not have prostate cancer. Seventy percent of positive PSA tests are false positives; the patient does not have prostate cancer. (if you test negative, there's only a one-to-two percent chance you still have prostate cancer.) Of course, those who test positive worry about the result, and think they may well have cancer. I don't know how to place a value on peace of mind, but anyone who has worried about a positive cancer test certainly knows how scary it is.

Read the rest here.

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