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National trial shows screening does not reduce prostate cancer deaths

Timothy R. Church, Ph.D.

Yearly screening tests do not appear to reduce deaths from prostate cancer, according to a recent major national study that tracked more than 76,000 men at 10 sites in the United States, including the University of Minnesota.

Prostate-specific antigen tests and/or digital rectal physical exams conducted annually over six years led to more prostate cancer diagnoses but not fewer cancer deaths, according to a report from the national Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial.

Masonic Cancer Center researcher Timothy R. Church, Ph.D., is the principal investigator for the PLCO trial at the University, which enrolled 17,099 men, making it the largest of the participating sites.

“What this report tells us is that the short-term benefits of prostate cancer screening, using present methods, do not result in the reductions in death that we had hoped,” says Church, who also is a professor in the School of Public Health and a coauthor of the PLCO report, published in the March 18 edition of the online New England Journal of Medicine.

“It is possible that prostate cancer screening may produce longer-term benefits, and we will continue to monitor men in this study with the hope that we eventually will see reduced death from this disease,” Church says. “In the meantime, it is important to remember that men differ in their risks for prostate cancer based on their family and personal history. Those men who are concerned about their prostate health should consult with their physicians about the best way to proceed.”

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