Why The Number Of Prostate Cancer Screenings Continues To Fall

November is set aside for raising awareness about men’s health, and one of the diseases that most commonly affects men is prostate cancer.  Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, and every year there are approximately 220,800 new cases of the disease. Often considered the “breast cancer of men’s health”, statistics show that 1 in every 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime.

Despite the commonality of the disease, recent reports show that the number of early prostate cancer cases has fallen over the years, something researchers believe may be the result of the decreasing number of prostate cancer screenings over the year.

Over the past few years, less and less people have been getting screened for prostate cancer. Between 2010 and 2013, the percentage of men 50+ who reported PSA screening over the past year dropped from 37.8% to just 30.8%. Coincidentally, the number of early-stage diagnoses of prostate cancer per 100,000 men age 50+ also dropped, which 33,519 less cases detected.

Although there’s no way to prove that these two things are related, it’s hard to offer an alternative explanation since the overall number of prostate cancer diagnoses has not declined. People are still getting prostate cancer just as often, it’s just not getting detected early.

Many doctors believe that this decrease in the amount of men getting screened for prostate cancer is the result of the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommendation against screening that was released in 2012, which cautioned against early screening and stated that the risks outweighed the benefits when it came to routine blood tests for PC screening.

The task force argued that PC screening often finds tumors that may never end up harming the patient but that are treated anyway, resulting in sometimes unnecessary surgery or radiation. It’s kind of the same deal as the American Cancer Society’s reasoning behind their recent change to the breast cancer screening guidelines.

Doctors argue, though, that these warnings shouldn’t necessarily scare patients (especially those who are high risk) from getting screenings altogether. Instead, they should simply call for doctors to screen “smarter”, testing men a little less frequently and focusing more on patients who are high risk.

So if you’re someone who’s at an age where yearly prostate cancer screening is recommended, please don’t simply stop being screened! Instead, consider a bi-annual screening or speak directly with your doctor to decide what works best for you personally. Every case is different, and every individual has unique requirements when it comes to their health, so don’t just ditch your screenings! Talk to your doctor instead.

You can read more about the research findings on The New York Times