Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with approximately 165,000 new cases each year and over 29,000 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts convened by the federal government that rates the effectiveness of preventive screenings and tests, giving them an A, B, C, D, or I grade. “A” and “B” ratings mean that a preventive screening is highly recommended and should be fully covered by insurance. An “I” grade means there is not enough evidence for the Task Force to recommend for or against a preventive test.
At its meeting just last month, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) upgraded its recommendation about using the PSA test to screen for prostate cancer in men age 55-69 from a “D” to a “C”. The old “D” rating meant that the Task Force believed that the PSA (which stands for prostate specific antigen) test did more harm than good –a view that men’s health advocates and many in the medical community disagreed with. The new “C” rating means that the Task Force listened to input from those advocates and healthcare providers and now encourages men to talk with their healthcare provider about prostate cancer screenings.
We strongly support this new recommendation and believe that it will encourage men to take a more active role in their health and wellness, but the Task Force should do more.
Many men’s health providers and advocacy groups, including Men’s Health Network (MHN) , encourage men of all ages to speak to their healthcare provider about prostate cancer screenings and to get a baseline PSA test at age 40. “Like anything in healthcare, the more communications, the better. If men are starting a conversation with their physicians, they may realize they are at greater risk for prostate cancer than they thought,” said Vivek Sinha, MD. “If more people are communicating and talking about preventative screenings, we may be able to save lives.”
“We believe that it should be a right of every patient to discuss with their physician the problems they are at risk for an create an action plan to screen for those problems as is reasonable for whatever stage in life they are at, said Justin S. Sparkes, DO, INTEGRIS Health, Oklahoma City. “Early diagnosis of prostate cancer is a key element and maintaining a person’s productivity and quality of life.”
For patients 69 and younger, the new “C” rating means that the test is only covered if your insurance company covers it, or if your state insurance agency requires that it be covered. (About 36 states require that insurance sold in their state cover prostate cancer screening.)
However, for men 70 and over, the Task Force left in place its “D” rating, which means they recommend against prostate cancer screening. But men get lucky here, Congress has provided that men on Medicare are covered for prostate cancer screening regardless of what the Task Force says. If you are 70 or over and on Medicare, talk to your healthcare provider about being tested for prostate cancer.
The Task Force’s new recommendations did not provide separate ratings for men who have an especially high risk of getting prostate cancer: African-American men, men with a family history of the disease, and men who’ve been exposed to Agent Orange and some other chemicals. We think there should be a separate rating for these groups, perhaps a “B” so that their tests will be covered by insurance in every state.
“In the future, we’re hopeful that the Task Force will have separate ratings for high-risk men of all ages and upgrade their recommendations for men 70 and older to at least a ‘C’”, says Salvatore Giorgianni, PharmD, Senior Science Advisor to MHN.
For more information on prostate cancer and other prostate issues, visit www.ProstateHealthGuide.com.
June is Men’s Health Month (www.MensHealthMonth.org), which makes now the perfect time for men to discuss prostate cancer and other health screenings with their healthcare providers. You’ll find screening recommendations for men and women at www.GetItChecked.com.