Observations Medicine and the Media

Prostate screening: is the tide turning against the test?

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c1497 (Published 17 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1497
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist, London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}btinternet.com

    After his New York Times article created a stir, the discoverer of prostate specific antigen tells Nigel Hawkes that the US Food and Drug Administration should never have approved the PSA screening test

    The UK Prostate Cancer Charity recently lamented the ignorance of British men about “a simple blood test” for prostate cancer. Seven out of 10 men, it found in a survey, were unaware of the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and of their right to ask for one. It described this state of ignorance as “completely unacceptable.”

    At about the same time the man who discovered PSA, Richard Ablin, was offering the New York Times an opinion piece about the use to which his discovery has been put. The article, published on 10 March,1 caused quite a stir in the United States, where the PSA test is seen by many as a birthright up there alongside life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    The popularity of the test, wrote Dr Ablin, has led to “a hugely expensive public health disaster.” The test was hardly more effective, he said, than a coin toss. “PSA testing can’t detect prostate cancer and, more important, it …

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