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US panel issues new guidance on prostate cancer screening

© AFP/File | Prostate-specific antigen-based screening tests for a protein in the blood that is produced by the prostate gland

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

A US government advisory panel has reversed its opposition to a controversial prostate cancer screening test for men aged 55 to 69, according to draft recommendations published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Patients are now advised to discuss the potential benefits and harms of prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-based screening with their physicians and then decide individually whether it's the best route, the US Preventive Services Task Force said.

PSA-based screening tests for a protein in the blood that is produced by the prostate gland. An elevated level can indicate a cancerous tumor but also signal benign conditions. A normal PSA level does not always rule out the presence of cancer.

"The decision about whether to be screened for prostate cancer should be an individual one," the task force said in its recommendation, which will be open to public comment until May 8 before being formalized.

The stance marks a reversal from the panel's recommendation in 2012, when it concluded that the adverse effects of the blood test outweighed its benefits.

PSA screening can result in a high percentage of false positives, and aggressive treatment of slow-moving tumors -- which don't pose a significant threat to the patient's health -- can have potentially devastating side effects such as incontinence and impotence.

The latest recommendation says that overall, PSA-based screening for men aged 55 to 69 "offers a small potential benefit of reducing the chance of dying of prostate cancer."

For men 70 and older, the advisory panel continues to recommend against PSA-based testing, arguing that for this age group, prostate cancer evolves slowly and the 10-year survival rate is relatively high.

More than 161,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society and nearly 27,000 will die at an average age of 80.

© 2017 AFP