Harvard Men's Health Watch

New tests promise smarter prostate cancer screening and treatment

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Clues from genes and other cancer markers can help men make decisions, but come with important limitations.

The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is widely used to check otherwise healthy men for signs of hidden prostate cancer. But PSA screening remains controversial because it often leads to men being "overdiagnosed" with slow-growing tumors that might never have harmed their health or shortened their lives. Many men seek treatment anyway, potentially exposing themselves to risks such as erectile dysfunction and urinary problems for uncertain benefit.

Some companies are still trying to improve on PSA testing, although this approach will inevitably continue to fuel overdiagnosis. But new gene-based tests for men already diagnosed with prostate cancer offer more hope of progress. "The gene tests give us a platform for asking very important questions," says Dr. Marc B. Garnick, a prostate cancer specialist at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

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