ACS issues new prostate cancer screening guidelines

As of 10:00 am this morning Eastern Standard Time, the American Cancer Society issued the following media release about newly published guidelines on screening for prostate cancer. We have given this press release in full, without further comment at this time. The only addition to the press release is the direct link to the complete, newly-published guidelines.

ATLANTA –March 3, 2010 – Newly updated prostate cancer screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society reaffirm the recommendation that men should discuss the uncertainties, risks and potential benefits of screening for prostate cancer before deciding whether to be tested. The update is the first since 2001 and was done as part of the Society’s regular guidelines update process. It included a series of systematic reviews focusing on the latest evidence related to the early detection of prostate cancer, screening test performance, harms of therapy for localized prostate cancer, and shared and informed decision making in prostate cancer screening. The guideline is published online in advance of print publication in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The updated guidelines include these recommendations:

  • Asymptomatic men who have at least a ten-year life expectancy should have an opportunity to make an informed decision with their health care provider about screening for prostate cancer after receiving information about the uncertainties, risks, and potential benefits associated with screening.
  • Men at average risk should receive this information beginning at age 50.
  • Men at higher risk, including African American men and men with a first degree relative (father or brother) diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65, should receive this information beginning at age 45.
  • Men at appreciably higher risk (multiple family members diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65) should receive this information beginning at age 40.
  • Men should either receive this information directly from their health care providers or be referred to reliable and culturally appropriate sources.
  • Patient decision aids are helpful in preparing men to make a decision whether to be tested.
  • Prostate cancer screening should not occur without an informed decision making process.
  • Asymptomatic men who have less than a ten-year life expectancy based on age and health status should not be offered prostate cancer screening.
  • For men who are unable to decide, the screening decision can be left to the discretion of the health care provider, who should factor into the decision his or her knowledge of the patient’s general health preferences and values.

“Two decades into the PSA era of prostate cancer screening, the overall value of early detection in reducing the morbidity and mortality from prostate cancer remains unclear,” said Andrew M. Wolf, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Virginia Health System and Chair of the Advisory Committee. “While early detection may reduce the likelihood of dying from prostate cancer, that benefit must be weighed against the serious risks associated with subsequent treatment, particularly the risk of treating men for cancers that would not have caused ill effects had they been left undetected.”

The authors say in light of ongoing uncertainties, including the uncertain balance between benefits and risks, involving men in the screening decision is crucial. “With these newly updated recommendations, the American Cancer Society places even stronger emphasis on shared decision making between clinicians and patients,” said Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “The decision whether to screen should be made with the help of a trusted source of regular care. Men without access to regular care should not be tested unless high-quality informed decisionmaking as well as appropriate counseling and follow-up care for those who test positive can be assured. Without those, community-based screening should not be initiated.”

“Previous guidelines from the American Cancer Society and other organizations have discussed the importance of informed decision making for men who are considering
prostate cancer screening, however this update is the first to provide details regarding what information about screening is needed for informed decision-making to occur,” said Alan G. Thorson, M.D., F.A.C.S., volunteer president of the Society. “For that reason, the updated ACS guidelines delineate the core elements of information necessary for men to engage meaningfully in this decision, and encourage inclusion of this information in patient discussions and decision aids.”

The guidelines also includes updated clinical recommendations regarding screening tests, intervals, and follow up of abnormal results for those men who choose to be screened after considering the possible benefits and risks. The guidelines acknowledge the limited contribution of digital rectal exam (DRE) to prostate cancer early detection and state that screening can be performed using PSA with or without the DRE. The guidelines recommend annual screening for men whose PSA level is 2.5 ng/ml or higher, but state that screening intervals can be safely extended to every two years for men whose PSA is less than 2.5 ng/ml. The guidelines affirm that a PSA level of 4.0 ng/ml or higher remains a reasonable threshold to recommend referral for further evaluation or biopsy for men at average risk of developing prostate cancer; for PSA levels between 2.5 and 4.0 ng/ml, health care providers should consider an individualized risk assessment that incorporates other risk factors for prostate cancer in the referral decision.

The update included a complete review of the evidence. The American Cancer Society’s Prostate Cancer Advisory Committee, composed of independent researchers,
clinicians and lay people, examined systematic reviews done by scientific experts at Emory University, Rollins School of Public Health, met to hear presentations by experts both on the Committee and by invited outside experts, and deliberated the evidence before making its final recommendations. The guideline underwent peer review before going before the American Cancer Society volunteer Board of Directors for approval. The authors conclude by noting the urgent need for better ways to detect and treat early-stage prostate cancer, particularly the need to distinguish between cancers that do not require treatment and those that are aggressive, to help “tip the balance clearly in favor of screening. Until that time, however, it will remain incumbent on health care providers and the health care system as a whole to provide men with the opportunity to decide whether they wish to pursue early detection of prostate cancer.”

3 Responses

  1. I am happy that such guidelines are now published. Since I was 70 when my prostate cancer was discovered and it was a low Gleason number I begin to be very anxious when I think of the very poor quality of life I have endured since diagnosis. We obviously have uroligists, and oncologists, out there that have missed the mark. I would have been very happy to obtain 5 years of quality life rather that go through the hurtful procedures I have had to endure. Here I am sitting with a terminal diagnosis and “am plenty hot under the collar”. I hope and pray that those diagnosed in the future will obtain many second opinions before proceeding with the the pain and suffering.

  2. The other casualty of screening that nobody ever seems to discuss is the psychological toll of finding out you have cancer. Given the typically long course of prostate cancer, many of us will be subjected to this psychological torture for many years. I was diagnosed at 42 years old and it has ruined my life. I had GS6, organ-confined disease. I am told that even at 15 years I have no risk of death from prostate cancer, and it still has consumed my entire life. I would have preferred not to have been told I had it. I would have rather found out 6 months before I died of it. Now we are being told that screening provides no mortality benefit. All this was for nought.

  3. I’m really sorry to hear of your experiences, Jim and Chris. I was fortunate enough be have what I think might be termed an “ornery” character and I have a deep distrust of authority figures like doctors who say they have all the answers.

    It makes me mad when I read stories lke yours and I have been running a website called YANANOW for more than 10 years aiming to help people understand the disease and all their options BEFORE they make what is often an irrevocable decision. If you pass the word around to friends and family they might find themselves in a better position than you do.

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