18 December 2007
New Research Shows Clear Benefits For Prostate Cancer Screening
Findings challenge Ministry of Health guidelines
Research by the Cancer Standards Institute of New Zealand concludes that screening for, and early detection of, prostate
cancer is highly beneficial for at-risk men and the health system.
In contrast, current Ministry of Health and National Health Committee guidelines do not recommend screening for men who
do not have prostate cancer symptoms.
The Cancer Standards Institute urges the Ministry of Health to reconsider its position on prostate cancer screening as
soon as possible.
“The Ministry needs to withdraw the outdated guidelines, provide new ones and invest more resources in encouraging New
Zealand men to seek screening from their GP,” trust chair Associate Professor David Lamb said.
He said traditional arguments against screening – that there is a high risk of false diagnosis and unnecessary treatment
– are no longer valid.
“As this research shows, the scientific understanding of prostate cancer screening and treatment has moved on
“It is also not good enough to say that prostate cancer is slow growing and may never cause symptoms or early death.”
“The benefits of early diagnosis and treatment are clear. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting New
Zealand men and is the third highest cancer killer of New Zealand men. Early diagnosis will lead to fewer deaths,
decreased morbidity, and reduced burden on the health care system.”
The research shows that prostate cancers diagnosed by screening are much more likely to be at an early stage, when most
can be cured by a number of different treatment options. Therefore the risk of a cancer not being diagnosed until it has
spread is reduced by half.
“In New Zealand screening has the potential to save about 200 lives each year, merely by reducing the proportion of
patients diagnosed with metastatic disease” said Professor Brett Delahunt, chair of the Institute’s Scientific
Committee. “As about 600 men currently die annually from prostate cancer, the resultant reduction in prostate cancer
mortality would be substantial”.
The research also shows that the benefits are greatest for men aged 50 to 70, particularly where there is a family
history of prostate cancer.
Professor Lamb said the Cancer Standards Institute is not yet recommending a population based screening programme like
that for breast cancer as the research to support that was still to be completed.
“What we are saying is that men, particularly those aged 50-70, should feel able to request prostate screening from
their GPs, and some men with a family history of prostate cancer should expect to be offered screening. And, we are
saying the health authorities need to update their guidance to the community and to medical practitioners.”
The Cancer Standards Institute research, Prostate Cancer: the new evidence base for diagnosis and treatment, has been
published in the December edition of the international journal Pathology. It is an analysis of the most current
international findings on prostate screening and treatment. The researchers are all Associates of the Cancer Standards