Guys: no more invasive prostate cancer exams!

Good news for all the over-40 men out there: we don't need routine screening for prostate cancer. More to the point, we don't need to subject ourselves to the dreaded "digital rectal exam" that has been a standard procedure for decades.  (Sorry for the ick factor, but that's what it's called, and yes, "digital" does mean "finger", not "computer.")   Most guys don't need any encouragement to avoid this particular invasive procedure, but now there's good scientific evidence saying we don't need it.

One of the most widely used screens for prostate cancer is the PSA test. I wrote about this last year, after several studies and a thorough review concluded that
“there is moderate certainty that the benefits of PSA-based screening for prostate cancer do not outweigh the harms.” (USPSTF, Annals of Internal Medicine, 22 May 2012)
Now, the Choosing Wisely campaign and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) have included not only PSA testing, but also digital rectal exams as procedures that are usually unnecessary. Their advice to physicians is very clear:
Don’t routinely screen for prostate cancer using a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or digital rectal exam.
So guys, the next time you go to the doctor, don't let him (or her) give you the PSA test (it's expensive too! even if insurance pays for it) or the dreaded "digital rectal exam." If your physician hesitates (though I imagine most doctors will be glad to skip these tests), print this list and hand it to him. If you or your doctor want to know more, the list includes references to long, detailed summaries of the evidence.

It's not just prostate cancer screening that is wasteful and unncessary. After a review of the latest evidence, the AAFP, as part of the Choosing Wisely campaign, has identified 15 tests and procedures that most of us should just say "no" to.

Choosing Wisely, which was created by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, is a great idea: a campaign to educate patients and physicians about what practices are:
  • Supported by evidence
  • Not duplicative of other tests or procedures already received
  • Free from harm
  • Truly necessary
The AAFP has identified their first set of 15 unnecessary procedures. Widespread attention to this list may save a huge amount of time and expense, and it should improve public health. Choosing Wisely and the American College of Medical Toxicology have also looked at homeopathy and other quack-y "complementary" or "integrative" treatments. Not surprisingly, their advice is simple: don't use them. (See Respectful Insolence for much more on that topic.)

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