The American Osteopathic Association's House of Delegates has been a busy group this week, issuing official position statements on various medical issues, but the one that caught my eye this morning was their stance on PSA testing and prostate cancer screenings for men.
Back in May the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which is a group of medical experts funded by Congress to help shape medical and health legislation in the US, officially recommended that men not be routinely offered prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, tests as a way to screen for prostate cancer. The statement essentially said that the tests ultimately do more harm than good by producing too many false-positives and causing psychological harm to men who actually have slow-growing prostate cancers because most of those men have tumors that will never actually threaten their lives.
That position, of course, set off a firestorm of controversy. Men's health advocates point out that prostate cancer is usually curable if its found early enough. By denying men the test, those experts said, you force men to wait until they have symptoms and by that time the cancers are sometimes so advanced that it's too late. This is especially a problem for men whose prostate tumors are fast-growing or prone to spread quickly. It also disproportionately denies testing to men who rely on government-funded health programs--like veterans, for example--because the task force's recommendations are often adopted by Medicare, Medicaid and many insurance companies.
Today the American Osteopathic Association threw its support behind the tests, too, saying that the decision to screen for prostate cancer can be "individualized" for each man. A white man with no known risk factors for prostate cancer might choose to forgo the tests, for example, while a black man--who is automatically at increased risk just because of his race--should be offered the screening even if he has no actual symptoms yet. At the very least, the Association says, men "should feel comfortable discussing their options with their physician." Right now, a lot of men AREN'T comfortable discussing PSA tests and prostate screenings simply because the issue is so controversial, says the Association.
The American Osteopathic Association's House of Delegates met this weekend in Chicago.