NEARLY half of prostate cancer cases are over-diagnosed, according to new research.
A Bond University study found that at least 41 per cent of prostate cancer cases detected by commonly performed screening tests were over-diagnosed.
Lead researcher Thanya Pathirana said over-diagnosis of prostate cancer often led to harmful and unnecessary treatment.
“Over-diagnosis of a cancer occurs when people are diagnosed with a dormant cancer that would not harm them if left undetected and untreated," Dr Pathirana said.
"This is a known adverse effect of prostate cancer screening.
“What we know about over-diagnosis is it can lead to unnecessary and, in some cases, harmful procedures and treatments such as prostate surgery, radiotherapy and hormone therapy."
Prostate cancer treatments can include a prostatectomy, the removal of the prostate gland, which can cause incontinence or impotence.
In cancer research, "lifetime risk" refers to the likelihood a person who is free of a certain type of cancer will develop or die from that type of cancer during their lifetime.
The research found the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer rose from 6.1 per cent in 1982 (one in 17 Australian men) to 19.6 per cent in 2012 (one in five), with a rapid increase following the introduction of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing in Australia in 1989.
Study co-author Paul Glasziou said the findings clearly demonstrated Australia had been over-diagnosing cases of prostate cancer for decades.
“These results show a clear increase in Australian men’s lifetime risk of a prostate cancer diagnosis – particularly following the introduction of PSA testing in Australia,” Professor Glasziou said.
“To address this issue of over-diagnosis, all asymptomatic men should engage in an informed discussion with their general practitioner about the risks and potential benefits of prostate cancer screening.
“Don’t get me wrong - men still need to remain vigilant when it comes to early detection, however they need to be informed and engage in shared decision making with their medical professionals about the harms of prostate cancer screening and other associated procedures."
Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia chief operating officer Malcolm Freame said men shouldn't be scared by the study.
"Talk to your doctor first, then make a decision, rather than make a decision in isolation."
He said screening played an important role in prostate cancer survival.
"There is evidence that if you don't get screened and you do have it, your chances of survival are reduced.
"Early detection is key. Survival rates when prostate cancer is detected early are 97 per cent."