During the last few years, a slew of health screenings and tests have been questioned. Professional and government organizations responded to research that suggests screenings may not always lead to decreased mortality, while they do tend to result in more follow-up tests and procedures.
Yet, from my perspective as a primary-care physician, cancer screenings remain a valuable tool in preventive health care.
September is national Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. This disease is the most common cancer, aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, diagnosed in American men. It is estimated that in 2012 more than 241,000 men will be diagnosed and 28,000 men will die from prostate cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Prostate cancer screening was the first step in identifying many of these cases.
"The issue is really how we can best use an imperfect blood test like PSA as one part of an early detection screening strategy," says Dr. Michael Mastromichalis, a urologist with the SSM Medical Group who is on staff at St. Clare Health Center.
"The overtreatment of low-risk, non-lethal prostate cancer, which may never become clinically apparent, is a significant concern," he said. "But that doesn't mean it's not important to be aware of one's health status and risk factors. Proper prostate cancer screening allows patients to be proactive about their health."
Researchers have come to different conclusions about the value of prostate cancer screening, and studies continue that will help determine optimal screening guidelines.
"Current American Urologic Association guidelines recommend a baseline prostate cancer screening, which includes a blood PSA test and a digital rectal exam to examine the prostate gland, at age 40 in well-informed men who not only desire to be screened, but who also wish to pursue an early diagnosis," Mastromichalis says.
"Men with an estimated life expectancy of 10 or more years who wish to participate in prostate cancer screening should be informed of the known risks and benefits during a discussion with their doctor," he said.
"Prostate cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment all depend on each individual's situation, so there is no 'one-size-fits-all' recommendation," says Dr. Mastromichalis. But awareness is the key to prevention, so don't hesitate to talk with your physician and make the best decision for your health.
Dr. Tim Pratt, board-certified in internal medicine and geriatrics, serves as chief medical officer at SSM St. Clare Health Center, 1015 Bowles Ave. in Fenton. Dr. Michael Mastromichalis is a member of the SSM Medical Group also located on the St.Clare campus in the St. Francis Building, 1011 Bowles Ave., Suite 300. For a referral to any St. Clare physician, call 1-866-SSM-DOCS (1-866-776-3627) or visit ssmstclare.com.