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Government advisers mull prostate cancer screening programme

By Lilian Anekwe

A UK prostate cancer screening programme based on repeated PSA tests is under consideration by the National Screening Committee, after reviewing evidence from leading health experts.

The committee is running a consultation on whether to launch a population-based screening programme, or to recommend testing individuals of certain ages, with a decision due this week.

Currently the UK NSC does not recommend screening men for prostate cancer, but men can ask their GP about PSA testing.

Their guidance, and guidance from NICE, also recommends GPs tell patients about the risks and benefits of the test - as set out in the Prostate Cancer Risk Management Programme pack.

But the policy has been under review since March 2009, and researchers at the University of Sheffield school of health and related research were asked to model four alternative repeat screening policies and set out the evidence for their costs, benefits and resource implications.

The options are testing once at age 50, or testing men aged between 50 and 74 years either annually, biannually or once every four years. No screening is also an option.

The committee also noted there is a ‘lack of awareness' amongst GPs about the current prostate cancer risk management programme, which launched its latest guidance on PSA testing in general practice earlier this year.

It also expressed concerns about 'the danger of sending out mixed messages, by not recommending a national screening programme but promoting awareness of the PSA test'.

But a key advisor told Pulse it was unlikely to recommend population screening using PSA anytime soon. Dr James Kingsland, a GP in Wallasey, Merseyside, and member of the government's scientific advisory group on prostate cancer risk, said: 'There might be some more piloting or research, but I would be very surprised if any nationwide screening plan is rolled out.

'PSA testing will probably never be an independent screening test for prostate cancer. It is not specific or sensitive enough. It does not meet the criteria we use scientifically for screening.'

A UK prostate cancer screening programme is under consideration A UK prostate cancer screening programme is under consideration

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