Prostate cancer screening

    Men over 35 are invited to get prostate cancer screenings at the Kimmel Cancer Center. The tests are free — and controversial.

    The Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia is hosting free screenings for prostate cancer this week and next. But there is considerable controversy over which men should get screened — and whether free events like this are a good idea.
    (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Alex_brollo)

    Listen: [audio:090916kgprostate.mp3]

    Men over the age of 35 are invited to pop in for the free screenings. The goal is to identify those who have cancer, and to help figure out which men actually benefit from screening. That age is younger than current guidelines from some medical groups, which cautiously recommend men over 40 or 50 to get screened. Leonard Gomella is the Cancer Center’s associate director.

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    Gomella: By moving the age earlier we may be able to identify those men who have the aggressive prostate cancers that need treatment earlier and offer them more opportunities for a potential cure.

    Currently, major medical groups don’t agree on who should get tested. Len Lichtenfeld is the deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

    Lichtenfeld: The American Cancer Society feels very strongly that men should not be routinely tested for prostate cancer.

    Lichtenfeld says free screenings can lead to men being treated unnecessarily for cancers that would otherwise not cause harm. The hazards of treatment include impotence and incontinence. Gil Welch is a senior research associate at the VA in Vermont. He says screening may save some lives, but there is a trade-off for others.

    Welch: This potential to get involved with the healthcare system, become a patient unnecessarily and suffer the side effects of needless treatment. And that’s why prostate cancer screening has become such a contentious issue because there really are downsides to just looking for the cancer.

    The American Urological Association recommends that men over 40 be routinely screened. Doctors at Kimmel Cancer Center say screening has led to a drop in the death rate from prostate cancer.

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