POSTED: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 9:00am
UPDATED: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 9:00am
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — After pouring over the latest data on PSA blood tests to screen for prostate cancer, a group of medical advisers convened by the federal government says the test shouldn't be offered to men of any age.
"We have convincing scientific evidence that there is at most a very small potential benefit," says Dr. Virginia Moyer of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen.
It's a protein released by the prostate when cancerous cells are present.
Dr. Moyer says the majority of cancers picked up by the PSA tests grow so slowly that most men never need treatment.
Urologists often promote a "watchful waiting" approach to prostate cancer rather than aggressive treatments that can lead to incontinence, sexual dysfunction, heart problems or even death.
They are risks an estimated 90 percent of diagnosed men take unnecessarily according to the task force.
"It's very, very hard to know that you have cancer and to not do anything about it," Moyer says.
The idea that it's better to live blissfully unaware of cancer than go after it with guns blazing can be difficult to accept in a culture where "early detection" has been historically touted.
The new recommendation has been met with outrage.
"Doctors can tell who needs treatment, and who does not. So let us make that decision with the patient," says Dr. Anthony D'Amico.
"If I didn't have that PSA test and I wasn't diagnosed, who knows where I would be 5-10 years from now," adds NASA's Captain Mark Kelly, a prostate cancer survivor.
Captain Kelly was in attendance at a meeting of the American Urological Association, which called the new recommendation against PSA screening "inappropriate and irresponsible."
Medicare is expected to continue paying for PSA testing.
One thing all groups agree on is that PSA testing should be a personal decision men should make only after a discussion with their doctors about the benefits and risks.