Saturday, March 28, 2009

Prostate Cancer Screening. Is it Worthwhile?

March 28, 2009

Dr. Steven Horvitz- Reading between the Lines:
Bringing you healthcare information you can trust!

There has been a recent hubbub about prostate cancer screening. For many years, men over the age of 40 have been advised to have an annual PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test along with a digital rectal exam.

In theory, PSA screening would detect prostate cancer at an early and more treatable stage. If the PSA level was above normal, or increasing quicker than expected, further evaluation for prostate cancer was begun. Ask any man who has undergone further evaluation. It is neither fun, nor pleasant.
Yet screening for prostate cancer via the PSA test seems worthwhile, if the alternative is a higher risk of prostate cancer. But two recent studies raise questions concerning the PSA tests effectiveness.

The first involved over 76,000 men. These men were divided into two groups. The first group had annual PSA and digital rectal exams for six years, while the second group had usual care. Although more prostate cancer was diagnosed in the first group, they did not have more prostate cancer related deaths after both seven and ten years.

The second study, involved 182,000 men followed over nine years. The first group had PSA screening every four years, while the second group did not. There were 20% more prostate cancers diagnosed, and slightly fewer prostate cancer deaths in the first group. But as we look closer at the studies statistics, for every 1,410 men screened with the PSA test, only 48 would be treated, or just over 3%. Of the 48 men treated only one cancer death would be prevented, or just over 2%. Of the 1,410 men screened, prostate cancer death would be decreased by less than 1/10 of one percent. There was no difference in overall death rates between the two groups.

So let us analyze this conundrum by going from point A to point B.

Point A is PSA testing. We want to get to Point B, which is prevention of prostate cancer deaths, while causing little or no harm. Yet, neither of these studies showed a significant decrease in prostate cancer or other causes of death.

A (PSA testing) -----XXX------>>>> B ( Decreased Prostate Cancer Deaths)

Most men identified as having abnormal tests will probably never develop a prostate cancer that will kill them. Some will say that the risk is worth it, and that is a valid opinion. But tell that to the men who had an abnormal PSA test, underwent further testing, biopsy and/or treatment, ended up impotent or incontinent, and were found not to have prostate cancer. Sometimes the investigation and treatment of a disease is worse than the disease itself.

Now, by sending out this newsletter, I am not advocating for the end of the use of PSA testing. PSA testing is especially useful in men with a family history of prostate cancer. It may also be useful for men between the ages of 40-60, as prostate cancer at a younger age tends to be more aggressive. But we need to further understand who and how often we need to screen. Should we screen yearly, every 2-3 years or every 5 years? Should we screen men over 70 or 80 years of age, when their risk of dying from other causes is higher than their risk from prostate cancer? The decision to screen should be left to each individual. Diagnosis of any disease at an early stage is a worthwhile goal and is something I strive for in my medical practice. But it must be accomplished without causing harm. The two studies mentioned above indicate that a harmful outcome is just as likely as a good outcome in PSA screening for prostate cancer. So what do we do to improve our odds of not having a bad outcome from prostate cancer without causing harmful side effects? How about teaching lifestyle modifications that can decrease your overall risk. Let me point to another recent study. In this study, intake of 500mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily, like those found in dark fish like salmon, reduced the death rate from advanced prostate cancer by up to 63%. Eating salmon sounds a bit more pleasant than a prostate biopsy ; ) I, for one, will eat more salmon and continue with my omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.

On another note, our politicians are debating about an overhaul of our healthcare system. My fear is that they will try to change the system to a cookbook style that is more concerned with costs than on good health outcomes. If that turns out to be the case, a less expensive alternative for prostate cancer screenings may soon look like the picture below.

I can hear it now.

Attention Wal*Mart shoppers.

Please head over to aisle four for your free prostate check ; )


Please note that next week, Julie Fischer will begin performing massage therapy in my office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She performs Thai, swedish and deep tissue massage, as well as hot stone massage. For the month of April, Julie's massage services will be offered at a 10% discount. Wellness Plan members get even better pricing. Please click on the above link for more information.

If you have any suggestions about topics for future newsletters, or how to make the newsletter better, please send me an email at

To Good Health!!

Steven Horvitz, D.O.
Board Certified Family Medicine
Founder of The Institute for Medical Wellness
128 Borton Landing Road, Suite Two
Moorestown, NJ 08057
Phone: 856-231-0590
Fax: 856-294-0311

For more information about Dr. Horvitz and The Institute for Medical Wellness, please visit our website at

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1 comment:

  1. Going to prostate screenings is VERY important but it's also important to make sure your prostate is healthy day-to-day. I know that tomatoes and soy products are good. Does anyone know of any other prostate health foods?