The US Preventive Services Task Force, or USPSTF, has taken dead aim at men. The organization has just released its final recommendation against the use of prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, testing for early stage prostate cancer. And it may well be dead aim, indeed, say the two main groups that are standing up to oppose the move.
In a joint statement released yesterday the Men's Health Network and the Veterans Health Council decried the new recommendation saying that by officially lower PSA tests to a "D" rating the federal government has essentially denied them to thousands of men who desperately need them. Prostate screening with PSA tests and digital rectal exams save lives the organizations say and by officially designating them with a "D" grade they will not longer be routinely offered to men who depend on Medicare and Medicaid. Coverage for the tests may also be dropped by many insurance companies which use those government ratings to decide which tests they cover and which they don't.
The government's stance is strikingly similar to the one it took on mammography several months ago. Only in this case the government claims, in part, that the tests don't ultimately save many lives. And, say the feds, the tests cause unnecessary worry to men who may have prostate cancer that will grow so slowly that they will die from something else before they die from their prostate cancer.
In its statement the Men's Health Network, which is ruled by more than 800 experts in men's health, acknowledges that PSA tests aren't perfect but calls the exams the best we have right now. And they DO save lives, says the network. This new "D" designation will essentially defund them for the men who need them most--like African Americans (who are already at an increased risk for the disease), veterans of the Vietnam War, and poor men who have a family history of prostate cancer.
The Veterans Health Council has taken an even stronger stance. In its statement the council says that the government's decision will hit Vietnam Veterans especially hard. Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, for example, are already twice as likely as other men to develop prostate cancer. And when they do it tends to show up earlier, be more aggressive and spread faster. Early detection of the disease is vital to them because such aggressive treatment is needed. By eliminating PSA exams as a covered screening tool the government is essentially turning its back on these men, says the council.