Dispatch: For prostate cancer, seeing is not always believing

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Booster Shots, the Los Angeles Times’ health blog, yesterday pointed out that while the current prostate cancer screening technology — the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test — has lead to an increase in diagnoses and surgical interventions, it has not decreased the cancer mortality rate.

ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan suggests the following analogy when considering the dilemma of prostate cancer screening: “Imagine you’re a farmer with three different types of animals — birds, turtles, rabbits — and you are trying to keep them on your property (in other words, prevent metastasis) by building a screen. The turtles don’t need to be screened because they aren’t going anywhere. The birds, which represent cancer that has already metastasized, fly away with or without the screen, so there is no point in trying to screen them. The screening, then, only helps the rabbits — the only ones able to leave the “property”. Unfortunately, with today’s screening procedures we can’t distinguish the life threatening prostate tumors (rabbits) from less aggressive ones (turtles).”