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Conquer Cancer Health News

Study: Prostate Cancer Deaths May Be Misdiagnosed


Doctors may be making mistakes in determining a cause of death for prostate cancer patients -- which in turn could be skewing results of studies aimed at finding out whether prostate cancer screening can save lives, researchers said on Tuesday.

Doctors are trying to decide if it is worthwhile to test men for prostate cancer in the way women are now routinely screened for cervical cancer, but studies have yet to come up with a conclusive answer.

One reason could be misdiagnosis at death, Dr. Craig Newschaffer of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and colleagues said.

They looked at the records of 1,200 men diagnosed with prostate cancer who later died, and 2,900 men who did not have prostate cancer and who died.

Writing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, they said it is not always easy to tell what a person actually dies of if they have advanced cancer.

"For example, in one cohort of subjects with local-stage prostate cancer who were followed closely for 15 years, nearly 90 percent of the observed deaths were believed to be from causes other than prostate cancer," they wrote.

But they found evidence that suggested doctors have a bias in deciding what a person has died of. For example, if the patient was getting aggressive treatment for prostate cancer, the doctor was more likely to attribute the death to some other problem, such as heart disease or another form of cancer.

Many prostate cancer patients also have heart disease or another form of cancer. But Newschaffer's team said it could be that if a patient is getting aggressive treatment for prostate cancer and dies, doctors are reluctant to believe that the treatment failed.

They said studies seeking to show whether screening for prostate cancer saves lives should take this possible bias into account.

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