Federal Panel Urges End to Prostate Screenings for Men 75 and Over

A federal task force has made the extraordinary decision to recommend that doctors stop giving routine blood tests for prostate cancer to men age 75 and older.

In a recommendation made on Monday, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force said doctors should also stop giving men in that age group the more accurate, but highly invasive, prostate biopsy screening, which has been found to do more harm than good.

In a new blow to the much-scrutinized prostate specific antigen blood test, the task force said the screening's results are often misleading, prompting doctors to order the more invasive biopsy, which often causes "moderate-to-substantial harms," including erectile dysfunction and bladder control and bowel problems.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men — about 220,000 cases will be diagnosed this year. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men.

Despite the grim stats, even the American Cancer Society, an advocate of early detection and early cancer screening, agrees with the task force recommendation to forgo the testing.

"The updated Task Force recommendations for men ages 50 to 74 are in line with the current recommendations from the American Cancer Society and other major medical groups," Dr. Robert Smith, director of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society, told FOXNews.com.

"Our guidelines say men 50 and over with at least a 10-year life expectancy should be offered screening, but the choice should be made by patients with their doctors. This means men should be given the option to be tested, and can make a decision after weighing the pros and cons," he added.

Dr. Harry Fisch, professor of urology at Columbia University Medical Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, told FOXNews.com that, more often than not, elevated levels of PSA — a protein produced by the cells of the prostate gland — are an indication of an infection or a benign growth in the prostate and not prostate cancer.

For example, if a man's PSA level is 4 or higher, that is considered abnormal, and doctors then biopsy the prostate. Biopsies are invasive and can result in long-term problems for men who have them.

"But, to show you how non-specific [a PSA test] is, only one-third of the time does the biopsy show cancer," Fisch said.

The other issue with prostate cancer is that most tumors grow so slowly, they never threaten lives. There is no accurate way to tell which tumors will.

"It’s not like pancreatic cancer, which is a very aggressive cancer," Fisch said. "Prostate cancer has different grades, severities. The vast majority that’s detected does not kill you. If you pick up a high-grade cancer, yes, I recommend treatment such as surgery, radiation or a combination."

The new guidance is the first update by the task force on prostate cancer screening since 2002. The last report on the subject from this panel of experts, which sets the nation's primary care standards, concluded there was insufficient evidence to recommend prostate screening for men of all ages.

In recent years, there has been a growing debate about the value of the imprecise PSA test to detect cancer, as well as the value of treating most prostate cancers. Many experts contend patients are being overtreated.

Most major U.S. medical groups recommend doctors discuss the potential benefits and known harms of prostate screening with their patients and make individual decisions. The tests are still recommended for men over the age of 50, but under the age of 75, who may be at risk for the disease.

The federal task force reviewed research in reaching its conclusion and "could not find adequate proof that early detection leads to fewer men dying of the disease," task force chairman Dr. Ned Calonge said in a statement.

The new guidelines from the Preventive Services Task Force were published in this month's Annals of Internal Medicine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.