In a new American Cancer Society (ACS) video, Dr. Otis Brawley, the organization’s chief medical officer, takes to task — with startlingly frank language — doctors and clinics that are “not telling people the truth” about routine screening for prostate cancer.
“We still don’t know if it save lives,” he says. Because of that uncertainty — and because the screening offers definite proven harms as well as possible benefits — not all men need to be screened, he adds.
“There are some people with an elevated PSA who will be diagnosed with cancers that will actually never kill and will be treated needlessly,” he says. “We actually cure people who don’t need to be cured when it comes to prostate cancer.”
But many men aren’t getting that message. In fact, they’re being lied to, says Brawley. “I’m very concerned,” he says in the video. “There’s a lot of publicity out there — some of it by people who want to make money by recruiting patients — that oversimplifies this, that says that prostate cancer screening clearly saves lives. That is a lie. We don’t know for sure.”
He goes on:
“We’re very concerned about a number of clinics that are offering mass screening where informed decision making — where a man gets told the truth about screening and is allowed without pressure to make a decision — that’s not happening. Many of these free screening things, by the way, are designed more to get patients for hospitals and clinics and doctors than they are to benefit the patients. That’s a huge ethical issue that needs to be addressed.”
This is not a new stance for Brawley, who has a long professional expertise in prostate cancer. Before going to ACS, Brawley worked in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the National Cancer Institute where he helped develop and launch the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial.
In a 2000 interview (during his pre-ACS days), Brawley said he himself had no interest in being screened for prostate cancer, and then went on to raise almost the same concerns as he does in the new ACS video. He also said his views about medical ethics — specifically about medical professionals and others who mislead people about what is known and not known about a medical procedure — come in part from his personal research into the Tuskegee Syphilis Study disaster. In that infamous and tragic study, which was designed to observe the effects of untreated syphilis on men, investigators lied to the study’s participants — all African-American — “in an effort not to worry them with something too complicated,” said Brawley.
He’s not against prostate cancer screening, Brawley says in the ACS video, but he is against “a man being duped and deceived into getting prostate cancer screening.”
You can watch the video here:
Hat tip: HealthNewsReview