INCREASED testing for prostate cancer could treble the chance of men being diagnosed with the disease throughout their lives, experts believe.
They have forecast that baby boys born today will have a 14 per cent chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lives, up from five per cent among those born in 1990.
Prostate cancer is mainly a disease of old age. Part of the forecast increase in diagnoses will be driven by the fact that today’s baby’s are expected to live longer than today’s twentysomethings, said Professor Malcolm Mason of Cancer Research UK.
But “80 to 90 per cent” of the increase will be driven by more intensive use of the prostate specific antigen test, or PSA test, he said.
His forecast is largely based on increased uptake of the test between the early 1990s, when it started to be used in Britain, and now.
A high PSA score is an indication that prostate cancer might be present, but it is a far from perfect test.
This is because many people with high PSA scores do not have tumours. In addition, among those who do, only a proportion will have tumours that would end up spreading and causing harm.
Prof Mason said: “There are a number of men out there who have had treatment they didn’t need. The problem is we don’t know which ones.”
He continued: “We’re carrying out an intensive amount of research to find better methods than PSA to distinguish between the minority of cases that are life threatening and do need treatment – the vipers – from the majority of cases that don’t – the grass snakes.”
Dr Margaret McCartney, a Glasgow GP and presenter of Inside Health on BBC Radio 4, commented: “The problem of overdiagnosis which often leads to overtreatment is enormous and whenever we screen people with no symptoms of disease we risk doing them harm.
“We have to wake up to the problem of overdiagnosis and give people enough fair information about screening so that they get knowledge, not fear.”
Stephen Adams Telegraph.co.uk