To that end, Reddy and his team analyzed data on more than 1,700 prostate cancer patients who between 1986 and 1996 had been treated with either radiation therapy or surgery to take out their prostate gland and the surrounding tissue.
Noting that in the first half of the study period, PSA tests were not yet available, the authors compared the spread of the disease over the course of 10 years among those who had been diagnosed with a PSA test and those who had not.
Over the 10-year period, metastatic disease took hold among 13 percent of all the patients. However the researchers found that regardless of whether patients were categorized as having high-, medium-, or low-risk disease, those who had been diagnosed as a result of a PSA screening were significantly less likely than those who weren't to have seen their cancer spread during the decade following their original treatment.
It should be noted that studies presented at scientific meetings do not face the same peer-review scrutiny as those published in reputable journals.
Dr. Lionel L. Banez, an assistant professor of urologic surgery at Duke University Medical Center, said that the current study leans toward the relative benefits of prostate cancer screening.
"There is compelling evidence that PSA testing saves lives, especially when performed in an optimized strategy," he said. "For example, getting an initial PSA measurement at age 40 to properly assess baseline prostate cancer risk has been proven to be quite beneficial.
Nevertheless, Banez acknowledged that doctors need to interpret test results judiciously.
"The challenge," he stressed, "lies in ensuring that the risks for over-diagnosis and over-treatment, as well as potential decline in quality of life, are minimized or avoided."
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