The headline in the New York Times story this morning, “New Prostate Cancer Tests Could Reduce False Alarms,” by Andrew Pollack, had me scratching my head. Had I missed something in the story of advances in prostate cancer screening and diagnosis? The search for finding something better than PSA tests to reduce false positives and unnecessary biopsies has been going on for time immemorial, or more accurately, maybe the last 15 years. Also, separating the lethal from the cancers that amount to no trouble at all has also been a key research question.
Had The Times been bamboozled into a story by industry copywriters and urologists, hoping to bring back attention to the prostate? Clearly, the US Preventive Services Task Force, the American Cancer Society, and other groups stomped on routine prostate screening. Plenty of thought leaders agreed it is not a good prostate cancer screening test.
It’s also not just screening of asymptomatic men that is at issue. What about the men diagnosed with prostate cancer? Can they be better stratified so that men with lethal cancers are separated from those that require no treatment?
The New York Times article waxes poetic about the “more than a dozen companies that have introduced tests or are planning to in the near future.” It moves on to the transformative potential of molecular markers and a high-stakes battle looming ahead between Genomic Health and Myriad Genetics.
Are readers supposed to be wowed? I think so.
My favorite line in the story was this one:
“Some experts say that even if the new tests are not perfect, they are better than what is available now.”
Was The Times in the dark about thought leaders who thought all this is premature, urologic oncologists included? Apparently. Will more men and their loved ones insist on these unproven tests? Most likely.
I don’t dispute that we need a good test that separates the bad cancers, but the test is not here yet. The data is thin.