Swedish study criticizes prostate cancer test

The PSA test used to trace prostate cancer is incapable of predicting whether a tumour is malignant or benign. The findings of a new Swedish study from Karolinska Institutet are to be published in the UK on Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study is based on information from 267 prostate cancer patients in Sweden, Finland and Iceland.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein produced by the cells of the prostate gland. A tumour may be detected by measuring rising PSA levels in a blood test.

The men involved in the study did not receive treatment, but they did have their PSA examined on a regular basis. After eight years, 34 of the men had died of cancer. A further 18 had seen their condition worsen.

The researchers came to the conclusion that the test is not reliable.

“In order for us to treat those in real need, we must find better ways of assessing which individuals will develop a terminal illness and which ones have a more benign form of prostate cancer,” researcher Katja Fall from Karolinska Universitetet told newspaper Upsala Nya Tidning.

On Monday, the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) ruled that there was no good reason to recommend routine PSA screening as a means of detecting prostate cancer. The method was considered too unreliable.