Remember when a group of experts said in 2012 that men shouldn’t bother getting a regular blood test that can detect prostate cancer? Well, now they say that wasn’t quite right.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced Tuesday it was changing its 2012 recommendation to say that men age 55 to 69 should talk with their doctor about getting a prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test.
The group still has the same concerns about false positives and unnecessary treatment that it had in 2012. But now it says that might be outweighed by “a small potential benefit of reducing the chance of dying of prostate cancer.”
For Paul Taylor of Overland Park, the benefit of the PSA screening wasn’t potential or small. Taylor says the test saved his life.
In the summer of 2012, Taylor was a 41-year-old U.S. Army officer getting a routine physical before shipping out to Afghanistan. The task force had just issued its recommendation against the PSA test, but at the time the military was still performing it on everyone over 40.
“It’s the only time I’ve ever been happy the Army was kind of behind the times,” Taylor said.
A regular PSA is in the 0-4 range. Taylor’s was 22.
“After a lot of testing, they were able to figure out not only did I have prostate cancer, but it had already spread to other parts of my body,” Taylor said.
Taylor was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and was put on an aggressive treatment regimen at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston that has included surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
His condition has stabilized, but he’s still on a lot of medications. He retired from the Army and moved his family to the Kansas City area to be close to the University of Kansas Cancer Center, because of its National Cancer Institute designation.
Taylor, who is on the board of a nonprofit called Zero dedicated to ending prostate cancer, said he understands the task force’s concerns about false positives and unnecessary treatment. But none of that has to happen just because an initial PSA test turned up positive.
“A test ought to empower a patient and a doctor to have an intelligent conversation about what they need and what they don’t need,” Taylor said.
Brantley Thrasher, a urologist with the University of Kansas Health System and the president-elect of the American Urological Association, said patients have been getting diagnosed later, with their cancers more advanced, since 2012 because they’re skipping the PSA screenings. He called the new recommendations a step in the right direction.
“We need to at least make an educated decision with our patients, and to do that we need to have that discussion about PSAs,” Thrasher said.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common types, with about 180,000 cases last year making up almost 11 percent of the total cancers diagnosed in the United States. When detected early, it’s usually treatable and has an almost 99 percent five-year survival rate.
Taylor said the new recommendations will make it easier to get the PSA test covered by insurance.
“For me, it’s personally very important because there’s absolutely no reason in my mind why people shouldn’t be getting a PSA test, especially if they have a family history,” Taylor said.