Health & Medicine

UC Davis study: PSA testing for prostate cancer plays important role

UC Davis researchers say that a widely used test for prostate cancer likely plays an important role in catching the disease early, when it is most treatable.

The findings suggest that the PSA – or prostate specific antigen – test could be responsible for a reduction in prostate cancer mortality rates.

Since the introduction of PSA testing in the late 1980s, prostate cancer mortality has gone down 40 percent. The higher the PSA level, the more likely a man has prostate cancer.

However, last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advised against routine PSA testing, saying the test does a poor job of determining the “acuity” of the problem and leading to unnecessary therapy and side effects for men with prostate cancers that are slow-growing.

Now, research from the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center published in the journal Cancer shows that while survival rates have not improved for prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, PSA screening likely plays an important role in catching the cancer early.

“We’ve shifted the stage of diagnosis much earlier,” said Marc Dall’Era, urologic oncologist and senior study author. “In other words, because the PSA test detects cancer earlier, fewer men go on to be diagnosed with metastatic disease.”

However, the study shows that survival rates have not improved for those who were diagnosed with metastatic disease, according to a cancer center press release.

The study calls attention to the need to find better treatments for men with prostate cancer that has spread.

“Though we can reduce prostate cancer mortality, we have failed to reduce mortality among those with metastatic disease – the advanced prostate cancer that ultimately kills these men,” said Ralph deVere White, director of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and study co-author.

Dall’Era said the UC Davis study shows that the benefits of PSA screening should continue to be evaluated before making sweeping policy recommendations against its use.