November 26, 2014


The Problem With Prostate Screening (RICHARD J. ABLIN, NOV. 25, 2014, NY Times)

In 1970 I discovered the prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, which is now the most widely used tool in prostate screenings. But there has been a growing concern about whether the use of the PSA test has led to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, with millions of unnecessary surgeries, complications and deaths. [...]

The European Randomized Study reported results from seven countries, while Goteborg was a single-site study in Sweden. In both, men were divided into two groups: One underwent regular PSA tests, while the other was not screened. The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine and the journal Lancet Oncology, respectively.

As the Australian researchers, Ian E. Haines and George L. Gabor Miklos, noticed, there was something strange about the data sets: A large amount of the data in the European Randomized Study came from a separately reported Finnish study, which showed no significant lifesaving benefits of PSA screening.

They found further red flags in terms of biased patient treatment. Many of the men who developed prostate cancer received excessive amounts of a treatment called hormonal monotherapy, which some research now indicates can actually accelerate cancer. Depending on which groups -- screened and not screened -- those men were in, the results of the study could be significantly compromised. And yet that information was missing from the published reports. When Drs. Haines and Miklos requested the European data to undertake independent analyses, researchers in both studies were unwilling to release it.

Even more troubling was that the European Randomized Study investigators transferred an astounding 60 percent of the data from the Swedish Goteborg study into their own data pool. Since the Goteborg study was alone among country-specific studies in showing an almost 50 percent reduction in prostate cancer deaths for screening recipients, such an overweighting of the data obviously tipped the balance in favor of lives saved. This is a bright-line ethical breach: Without this biased transfer, the lifesaving claims of PSA screening vanish.

Posted by at November 26, 2014 5:35 PM

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