When to test for prostate cancer: Finding a balance

Published: February, 2009

A conversation with Fritz H. Schröder, M.D., the principal investigator of the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer

The word "cancer" inevitably draws a quick reaction from patients. Conventional wisdom tells us to rid the body of these rogue cells at any cost. Yet, in the case of prostate cancer, this logic is called into question. Many men who have prostate cancer and either never learn they have it or choose not to treat it often live long lives, eventually dying of something else. Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force began recommending that men ages 75 or older forgo prostate cancer screening, noting that the potential harm of treating screen-detected cancer may outweigh the benefits in this age group. That's because many screen-detected cancers can take a decade or longer to cause symptoms. But the treatment complications, which often include erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence, are immediate and can have a negative impact on a man's quality of life.

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