A better course would be for physicians to talk with their patients about both the uncertainties inherent in the PSA test and the relative innocuousness of most prostate cancers. Some patients may find the panel’s recommendation reason enough to forgo the test. Others patients might prefer to have it done, but to monitor their PSA levels rather than seek immediate treatment when the results are borderline.
Insurance companies often use the panel’s recommendations as their criterion for whether to cover a test. But until there’s a better test to detect prostate cancer or a broader consensus about skipping this one, insurers should continue to cover it.
Note that The New York Times editorial staff supports the limits and notes that the USPSTF guidelines allow for doctor patient conversations:
Critics, including urologists, who diagnose and treat prostate cancer, charge that the task force’s recommendations are misguided and will hurt patients. They have already been held up for two years lest they ignite charges of government rationing. That’s absurd. The recommendations are intended as guidance to help men and their doctors decide whether to use the test and how to react if it is positive. This is information patients need to know.