Prostate screening changes spark controversy

Controversy is brewing in the medical community. Monday evening, a government panel recommended men to skip a common test used to detect prostate cancer.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force gave a nearly failing grade for "prostate-specific-antigen" or PSA testing. It got a “D.” The group says getting the test causes more harm than good.

Less than a year ago, Garry Westcott of Alexandria, Virginia, didn’t know how long he had left to live. A doctor discovered he had prostate cancer.

“I had no symptoms. I had no indications that I had cancer other than the PSA test,” said now-cancer survivor Westcott.

The 63 year-old got the routine blood test after a physical. When his PSA came back high, he had his prostate biopsied, then had the cancer cut out.
“Had I not had the PSA test, my story and the list of procedures could be a whole different ball game,” Westcott said.

For nearly two decades, the message has been the same: get a PSA test every year or two to detect prostate cancer early. Now, a federal advisory panel is recommending otherwise, saying the screening is unreliable—giving a false positive 80 percent of the time.

"Panic was the number one thing in my mind and the doctors said the only way to make sure you're done is to get it out,” said Paul Nelson, Erectile Dysfunction Foundation President.

Paul Nelson, 51, had his prostate removed right away after his PSA came back high. But, in cases like Paul’s, the side effects of surgery are sometimes worse than the disease.

"I actually think impotence and incontinence are some of the minor side effects. Some of them are actually going to have significant problems like pulmonary emboli, heart attacks," said Dr. Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society Chief Medical Officer.

Westcott says you can debate the pros and cons indefinitely, but, what it boils down to is education.

“I think it needs to be explained to patients who get fearful right away that...doctors have to go through and explain...this does not necessarily mean you have cancer. It's an indicator that we're going by because frankly it's the best indicator we have now,” Westcott said.

The American Cancer Society says it's going to work hard to find a screening test that actually works—before making it widely available to the public again.

Of course, everyone has to discuss this with their doctor and make a personal choice.

Doctor Lynch with Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center issued a statement saying "it's a disservice to men to deny them the opportunity for potential treatment and cure...when necessary... For a disease that affects one in six over the course of their lifetime."