PSA Tests for Prostate Cancer: Beware of Testing for Testing’s Sake

Prostate cancer has not yet reached the level of awareness in society that breast cancer has. But millions of men are affected by decisions about when they should be screened. Many doctors use a common test called the Prostate-Specific Antigen, or PSA test for this purpose.

The goal, of course, is to avoid a failure to diagnose cancer or a misdiagnosis. But a task force made up of healthcare experts recommended last week that doctors stop using the PSA test. Evidence shows that the PSA test results in many false positives. And because prostate cancer grows so slowly, the test does not actually save lives.

The Preventive Services Task Force was clear in its recommendation that doctors should no longer perform the test.

Unfortunately, a preliminary survey of primary care doctors indicates that many doctors will resist the recommendation. In a survey of Maryland doctors associated with Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, very few doctors said they would stop calling for routine PSA tests.

Doctors gave various reasons for saying they would continue to perform the tests. Many doctors pointed to the fact that patients have come to expect the tests. Others said they just didn’t want to take time to explain why testing was no longer considered necessary.

Resistance like this by doctors to recommended guidelines raises numerous concerns about the potential for medical malpractice. To be sure, doctors need to have discretion to practice the art of medicine well. That does not mean, however, that guidelines for best practices should be ignored simply because it seems more convenient to so.

Source: “Many doctors think PSA tests don’t work. But they’ll keep doing them anyway,” Sarah Kliff, Washington Post, 5-29-12

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PSA Tests for Prostate Cancer: Beware of Testing for Testing's SakePSA Tests for Prostate Cancer: Beware of Testing for Testing's SakePSA Tests for Prostate Cancer: Beware of Testing for Testing's SakePSA Tests for Prostate Cancer: Beware of Testing for Testing's Sake

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