The data on PSA testing to detect prostate cancer has long been shaky — so much so that the discoverer of PSA (or prostate-specific antigen, an enzyme made by the prostate) himself decried the test two years ago as “hardly more effective than a coin toss.”
He characterized the widespread use of the cancer-screening tool as “a hugely expensive public health disaster.” This week, the U.S. National Preventive Services Task Force concurred, officially recommending against PSA screening for all healthy men of any age.
So why do people — particularly cancer patients and their advocates — continue to support the routine use of ineffective tests? In the case of PSA tests, positive results often lead to unnecessary and painful biopsies and the treatment of tumors that would never have harmed the patient anyway, further leading to side effects like infection, incontinence, impotence, even death.
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