GOP senator slams administration for advising against cancer test

The USPSTF is an independent advisory group sponsored by the government that makes recommendations on preventive care. It has drawn criticism before, for questioning the importance of breast-cancer screenings in young women.

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Hutchison criticized President Obama's healthcare reform law for expanding the panel's powers.

"Under the terms of the new law, insurance companies are required to offer certain preventive services at no additional cost to patients. Whether a test qualifies is based solely on a favorable rating from the USPSTF.

"This is tantamount to giving a task force — not a single member of which is a urologist or oncologist — the power to dispense medical care," she wrote.

The panel's recommendation could affect whether private insurers cover so-called PSA blood tests for prostate cancer. Hutchison warned that this could put "120-million-plus adult men in the United States" at risk.

According to reports, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said that Medicare will continue to cover the screenings.

According to the Mayo Clinic, experts say there "isn't enough evidence" to say whether PSA tests decrease the number of prostate-cancer deaths.

"If all cases of prostate cancer progressed rapidly and caused poor health and death, then early detection clearly would be a good thing," the Clinic's site reads. "However, prostate cancer usually progresses slowly over many years, and the majority of cases are diagnosed in men older than age 65.

"Therefore, a man may have prostate cancer that never causes symptoms or becomes a medical problem during his lifetime."

The USPSTF's decision cited research showing that prostate cancer surgeries cause roughly five deaths in every 1,000 cases.

It also noted that "at least 200 to 300 of 1000 men" treated with radiotherapy and surgery experience urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction as a result.

Many medical experts see these figures as a reason to scale back screenings for prostate cancer.

"Americans have been taught for decades to fear all cancer and that the best way to deal with cancer is to find it early and treat it aggressively," Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told Bloomberg in May.

"As a result, many have blind faith in early detection" with "little appreciation of the harms that screening and medical interventions can cause," he said.

But Hutchison cited a statement from the American Urological Association saying that prostate cancer deaths have gone down as PSA screenings have gone up.

"It is inappropriate and irresponsible to issue a blanket statement against PSA testing, particularly for at-risk populations, such as African-American men," the group's statement read.

Hutchison's piece was co-written with Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, a former head of the National Cancer Institute, which has studied the effectiveness of PSA tests.

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