Senators push for research into prostate cancer

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Barbara Boxer

Barbara Boxer

Two U.S. senators have proposed a bill to support research into prostate cancer, calling for “a national strategy to combat prostate cancer.”

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) have introduced the National Prostate Cancer Council Act, which would establish a body made up of federal agencies, patients, and medical experts. It would coordinate prostate cancer research and services across all federal agencies.

Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions

In a press release announcing the legislation, Sessions said, “Testing and early detection are the keys to combat this disease. When identified early, the survival rate for prostate cancer is very high. We need to ensure that we have the most advanced screening tools available and this legislation is a step in the right direction.”

The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer and 29,480 deaths in the U.S. this year.

The announcement comes on the heels of a Wall Street Journal article about the debate among doctors about whether the emphasis on cancer screening leads to overtreatment. Meanwhile, journalist Gary Schwitzer published a critique of a story about a campaign to encourage prostate cancer screening. Both pieces have important points that journalists should consider when writing about prostate research and screenings.

In a 2012 statement, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against prostate-specific antigen-based screening for all men, citing concerns about overdiagnosis and gaps in the research. The USPSTF says research is needed to identify ways to reduce overdiagnosis and overtreatment, as well as new screening methods and “whether the balance of benefits and harms of prostate cancer screening differs in men at higher risk of developing or dying of prostate cancer, including black men and those with a family history of the disease.”

“Physicians should not offer or order PSA screening unless they are prepared to engage in shared decision making that enables an informed choice by patients,” the recommendation says.

The American Cancer Society does not recommend that all men be tested for prostate cancer, outlining the reasons in its publication “Should I be tested for prostate cancer?” (PDF). Among them: Research into whether early detection will prevent deaths is not conclusive and that testing is not perfect.

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