The federal panel that opposed prostate cancer screening just changed its mind

An influential federal task force has dropped its controversial opposition to routine screening for prostate cancer and now says that men between the ages of 55 and 69 should discuss the test’s potential benefits and harms with their doctors and make decisions based on their own “values and preferences.”

“The decision about whether to be screened for prostate cancer should be an individual one,” the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said in a draft recommendation issued Tuesday.

The statement marks a turnaround from the panel’s 2012 stance, which concluded that any potential benefit from the PSA test — for prostate-specific antigen — was outweighed by possible harms. Those negatives include a high percentage of false positives as well as potentially devastating side effects from the aggressive treatment of slow-growing malignancies that might never pose a health threat. Surgery and radiation can cause urinary incontinence and sexual impotence.

The draft recommendation says that, on balance, screening provides a small benefit for men ages 55 to 69. New evidence “increases confidence” that the PSA test reduces the risk of dying of prostate cancer or developing advanced cancer that spreads beyond the prostate.

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