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Routine Prostate Cancer Screening Doesn't Reduce Risk of Death

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ST. LOUIS) -- Routine screening for prostate cancer does not lower the risk of dying from the disease, according to new study results, reigniting the controversy over the benefits of annual testing.

In a follow-up to previously reported data, researchers led by Dr. Gerald Andriole, chief of urologic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found that men who underwent yearly screening for prostate cancer, which included a digital rectal examination and a blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, had the same chance of dying from prostate cancer as men who were tested less often.

The Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial followed nearly 77,000 men ages 55 to 74 for 13 years. Men in the intensive screening group had a PSA test every year for six years and a rectal examination annually for four years.

The researchers first reported there was no difference in mortality between the two groups after following the men for 7 to 10 years, but after criticism that the men should be followed longer since prostate cancer is a slowly progressing disease, they extended the follow-up to 13 years and got the same result.

The value of annual PSA screening has been hotly debated by the medical community. Some say regular testing has saved many lives; others argue proof of its benefits just isn't there. In December, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued draft recommendations saying the available data are unclear to support routine screening in men younger than 75. They also recommend against screening in men 75 and older.

Experts told ABC News that the latest findings from the PLCO don't lend much to either side of the argument because the study contained numerous flaws. One of them, they explained, is because although one group was screened annually, more than half of the men in the other group did get occasional screening as part of their usual medical care, making it difficult to figure out the true effect of screening.

Even medical organizations have different recommendations on prostate cancer screening. The American Urological Association recommends that all men 40 and older be offered a screening test if they want it, but the American Cancer Society says while there the may be some benefit to screening, it can also be harmful, so men should make an informed decision with their doctor based on personal beliefs and whether they are at risk.

While experts continue the back-and-forth discussion on prostate cancer screening, Andriole said he and his team plan to continue tracking the participants for a couple more years. He also said he hopes to work with European researchers to pool their analyses.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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