Prostate cancer screening and treatment made the news again this week with Warren Buffett’s announcement that he has early stage, localized, prostate cancer identified through the use of a PSA screening test. The 81 year-old Buffett is six years older than the recommended cut off age for regular PSA testing. He has opted for two months of radiation to treat the cancer. Both Buffett’s diagnosis and treatment choice has put the spotlight on a diagnostic tool and disease that is poorly understood by many people.
Dr. Michael J. Barry, president of the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation and a practicing physician who has led a number of prominent prostate cancer research studies, has been asked time and again to explain the pros and cons of PSA testing and prostate cancer treatment. Most recently, he was interviewed for Wednesday’s MSNBC.com Vitals blog post on Buffett’s diagnosis and the risks of PSA testing and prostate cancer treatment in elderly patients.
“It is hard for men to benefit if they have less than 10 years of life expectancy,” he [Michael] said. “Now, like Lake Wobegon, we all hope we will do better than the average… But there is strong scientific consensus that harms outweigh the benefits. That does not mean you can’t find an individual who may benefit, it means the number harmed far outweigh the occasional man who does (benefit).”
If you are interested in learning more about prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment, we have a number of resources that may be of help to you. For a brief overview of the pros and cons of the PSA test and why the decision to have the test should be a shared decision between the patient and provider, read this New England Journal of Medicine Perspectives piece co-authored by Michael and Dr. Mary F. McNaughton-Collins, Foundation medical director. For a succinct overview of the latest controversy over the PSA test, read this PBS NewsHour blog post which features commentary from Michael. We have also developed a suite of prostate cancer decision aids to help patients work with their provider to determine what’s right for them. You will also find a great short video of Michael discussing why the PSA test may not be right for every man on our YouTube channel.