A new genetic test for prostate cancer has been developed that measures variations in DNA regions that have been shown to be present in men who develop prostate cancer. The problem for men and their doctors is that it still does not identify which men will develop more aggressive cancers. The test should be available in several months and cost less than $300.
The New York Times says, William B. Isaacs, a professor of urology and oncology at Johns Hopkins and an author of the new report, said that if more research validates what has been found, men might want to get the new genetic test once in their lifetime, when they are 35, say. Those at high risk because of their genetics might then choose to start prostate cancer screening earlier than the usual age of about 50, using a blood test, PSA, that looks for proteins secreted by prostate tumors, Dr. Isaacs said.
“I think that makes sense,” said Dr. Howard Sandler, a professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan and a spokesman for the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
But others worry that more frequent testing could exacerbate what already is a major problem: most prostate cancers grow so slowly that they would have been harmless if left alone. But since doctors cannot tell which cancers are dangerous, they treat nearly all that they find. And treatment has serious side effects, including, often, impotence and incontinence.
The article also says, “It’s the boutique medicine of the future, said Dr. Peter C. Albertsen, a professor of surgery and a prostate cancer specialist at the University of Connecticut. “We can know what diseases we will have to face in the rest of our lives.”
That worries him, as it does Dr. Edward P. Gelmann, who is deputy director of Columbia University’s comprehensive cancer center.
“Technology today enables us to find out a huge amount of information, Dr. Gelmann said. “But how does the public deal with this information? How does it help them make decisions? And if they make a decision does that lead to a day, a week, a month, of life saved?”
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