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U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Ruling on PSA Testing a Major Blow to Men’s Health
The draft recommendation by U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) urging men to avoid using the PSA blood test for prostate cancer screening is a major blow to men’s health that will cost thousands of American lives during the next decade.
“Since use of the PSA blood test became common in the early 1990s, the death rate among American men from prostate cancer has declined approximately 40 percent. Now a committee appointed by an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wants men to turn away from the only currently available method of early detection of prostate cancer,” said Rick Lyke, a prostate cancer survivor and founder of the Pints for Prostates campaign. “This is a cynical recommendation that asks men to stick their heads in the sand and ignore a disease that will kill nearly 34,000 Americans this year.”
Lyke had prostate cancer surgery in April 2008 at the age of 47 after a PSA blood test during a routine physical detected an 11.1 prostate specific antigen level. After having a biopsy and discussing the findings with several doctors, Lyke underwent surgery to remove his cancerous prostate. He is now healthy and his PSA is now 0.0. He volunteers time at beer festivals and other events to spread the word about the importance of early detection.
By giving PSA screening a “D” rating, the USPSTF says it wishes to “discourage the use” of the test. A number of prostate cancer organizations have stated they are concerned the federal government has opened the door for insurance companies to decline to pay for PSA testing. In many cases a high PSA score or a rapid increase in the PSA level is the only early warning sign of prostate cancer. Eliminating insurance coverage for the testing will mean many men will decide not to have the screening.
“Men have a right to know and to make informed choices about treatment options. Clearly, ignorance is not bliss when you are dealing with this disease. A blanket statement against using the PSA test as a screening tool when no other better tests are available is reckless and unconscionable,”
The USPSTF is an appointed panel with physicians specializing in pediatrics, maternal and fetal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, family medicine, geriatrics and palliative care, and internal medicine, but no members that are oncologists or urologists. In essence this ruling on a major issue directly relating to health of millions of American men was made by a group that has no specialized education or training in men’s health and no practical experience in diagnosing or treating prostate cancer. This is especially quizzical coming from the administration of President Barack Obama, who’s White House website says the health care reform act promises to make “health care more affordable, holds insurers more accountable, expands coverage to all Americans and makes our health system sustainable.”
“Men need to mobilize and tell the federal government ‘hands off our prostates.’ While no one argues that the PSA blood test is a perfect indicator, it is the best available method for detecting the possibility of prostate cancer before the disease spreads outside of the gland,” Lyke said. “Once prostate cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, nearby tissue or elsewhere in the body, treatment of the disease is much more difficult. By recommending against the use of the PSA test, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is basically guaranteeing thousands of men will needlessly face extensive and prolonged radiation, chemotherapy and hormone treatments. Following this recommendation will amount to a death sentence for many men.”
The USPSTF is required to accept public comment for a 30 day period before the draft recommendations become final. People are urged to visit http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/
“Instead of taking away the only widely available method for early detection of prostate cancer, men should demand that Washington increase funding for research into finding better detection and treatment methods for prostate cancer,” Lyke said. “One in six men will face prostate cancer. Most people do not know that prostate cancer is 33 percent more common in men than breast cancer is in women. It is a disease that our fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, friends, neighbors and colleagues face. We need to stand up for them and make it clear that we do not accept this attempt to go backwards in treating one of the leading killers of American men.”
Lyke also questioned the tactics of the USPSTF in making the announcement. By releasing elements of the draft recommendations heading into a holiday weekend and several days before opening the public comment section of the website, it could be argued that the USPSTC was purposely using tactics designed to reduce the amount of negative comments. The response of prostate cancer organizations, physicians and patients was further blunted by the fact that on the first day of the required public comment period the website crashed and was down for a number of hours.
“Men tend to avoid doctor office visits, yet the public comments from members of the committee have played up potential negative side effects from prostate cancer treatment without any balance in the form of information about the importance of early detection of the disease,” Lyke said. “No one rushes out and has their prostate removed because of a PSA score. But for many men like me, a PSA score is the only way to know that something is taking place in our bodies that left untreated will kill us. The side effects can be treated and overcome. Death is a permanent condition. Somehow the U.S. Preventive Services Tasks Force has managed to ignore this fact.”
About Pints for Prostates
Pints for Prostates is a 501(c)3 a campaign that reaches men through the universal language of beer to encourage them to take charge of their health. The group was founded by prostate cancer survivor and beer writer Rick Lyke in 2008. The grassroots effort raises awareness among men about the importance of regular health screenings and PSA testing by making appearances at beer festivals, social networking and pro bono advertising. According to the National Cancer Institute, 240,890 new prostate cancer cases will be diagnosed in theU.S.in 2011. More information is available at www.pintsforprostates.org. Pints for Prostates also has a presence on Facebook and Twitter (@pints4prostates)