Well, the field of genetics and the outcome of the massive human genome project that seems to have spawned a million genetic tests that can now be used to tell us everything from our tendencies toward cancers to how likely it is that we’ll live past 80 years old, has resulted in another genetic test.
This one is targeted toward men and a very particular concern that so many men have as they age. Much like women have to be more concerned about getting breast cancer as they get older, and are subjected to mammograms, thermographies, and other types of screenings, men are subjected to the infamous and increasingly criticized PSA test.
The PSA test for prostate cancer has been criticized as unreliable and even totally useless by its critics. This is because it often only tells men that they may have a small tumor on their prostate gland, and sometimes even if the PSA reading is abnormal, it may be a total miss and there may not be any tumors present. Many people are increasingly thinking it is not reliable enough to tell men if they have prostate cancer that is in a stage where it needs to be treated.
With newer genetic tests, often times Doctors can tell how aggressive certain cancers are in addition to telling how likely people are to die from the particular type of cancer and how likely they are to actually get a certain cancer in the first place. It’s pretty impressive, but some say it’s too much like “playing God”.
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about all of it especially when I hear about women getting both breasts removed simply because a test told them they are very likely to get breast cancer. It seems radical.
The new prostate cancer genetic tests will be able to tell men how aggressive their prostate cancer tumors are by taking tissue samples. This in turn theoretically gives the patient enough information to determine whether they want to treat their prostate cancer with any number of the treatments available today (which mind you, all have undesirable side effects and can be toxic in and of themselves).
The tests so far cost upwards up $3,000 and do not require approval to be marketed since they are simply diagnostic and not “treating” anything yet. The genetic profile they provide by looking at the tissue of the prostate tumor supposedly can tell the man whether he should seek treatment or whether this is a very slow growing cancer that may not require treatment for years. This can avoid months of painful treatments and recovery that often leaves men with permanent issues.
This could really prove a useful tool if utilized correctly. However, it doesn’t really consider the fact that every person is different in their reaction to this information. Even if a test showed a low likelihood of progression, some men may still want to pursue aggressive treatment – this is still up to them.
Also, another problem with the test pointed out is that the right area of the tumor or tissue needs to be biopsied in order to get a true risk profile that can help a patient decide whether to pursue treatment yet or not. If the wrong area is selected, who knows how bad the tissue is or whether the most aggressive cancer cells have migrated there yet.
There’s always the chance that the wrong area may be chosen. So as you can see, there are still plenty of errors and human issues that can enter in to the equation here. In the end, just take as good care of your prostate as you can, and help prevent any of this from happening in the first place.