Prostate cancer screening in blacks, and the lack of balanced information

Prostate cancer screening continues to be a controversial issue.

Regular readers of this blog know about the risks of cancer screening, especially prostate cancer, which can lead to unnecessary biopsies necessitating invasive procedures that can lead to life-altering side effects. All for a slow-growing cancer that may not have led to death.

The problem with prostate cancer is that the current detection methods, like the prostate specific antigen, are not accurate enough to determine the severity and prognosis of tumors.

But that isn’t stopping John Kerry and Don Imus (what an odd couple) from writing a recent op-ed in the Boston Globe. In their piece, they draw attention to the poor screening rates in African-American men, recommending that “African-American men should start being screened for prostate cancer at age 45, five years earlier than men of other races. All men, regardless of race, should be screened earlier if there is a history of prostate cancer in the family.”

Now, that flies in the face of the USPSTF prostate cancer screening guidelines, and perpetuates the false notion that earlier screening equates to better medicine. But that isn’t always the case.

If the authors had, for instance, advocated that more doctors discuss the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening with African-American men, that would have been acceptable. But instead, they chose to ignore the nuances surrounding screening, in order to generate a lazy Father’s Day editorial instead.

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