The Politics Of Prostate Cancer Screening

Have guidelines over prostate cancer screening been bogged down by politics?
Have guidelines over prostate cancer screening been bogged down by politics?

Family medicine physician Kenneth Lin says in a blog post that he will quit as a staff support person for the United States Preventive Services Task Force, which was supposed to meet for a vote on the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening. Instead, the meeting was cancelled. In his post, Lin suggests the issues surrounding the task force signal that "politics trumped science."

You will no doubt remember what happened the last time the task force issued guidelines, on mammograms for breast cancer screening? (The panel late last year recommended that only women aged 50 to 74 need routine mammograms every other year and that breast self-examinations shouldn’t be taught.) It created a political firestorm with many women screaming that the new guidelines were part of a medical plot against them and simply designed to save money without considering their health and indeed, their lives.

Fast forward to today, Election Day 2010, when the last thing certain candidates need is a massive revolt by any voter with a prostate.

Here's how The Journal explains the great cancelled-meeting controversy:

We broke the story last week that the USPSTF had canceled the Nov. 1-2 meeting, which USPSTF Chairman Ned Calonge said was due to scheduling conflicts. He had no comment then on whether the proximity of the meeting to Election Day played any role in the decision. Emails sent this morning to Calonge, the AHRQ and Lin weren’t immediately returned.

Calonge told us last week he was hoping to have a conference call to “keep the work moving forward” and then reconvene again in March for the next regularly scheduled meeting. That should include a vote on prostate-cancer screening.

As we also reported last week, last November the USPSTF voted at first to give prostate-cancer screening a “D” recommendation for all age groups, meaning the group recommends against screening for all age groups. Currently the USPSTF has an “I” rating for prostate-cancer screening, which means the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms, for men younger than 75. For older men, the rating is “D.”

This program aired on November 2, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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