Health Buzz: Panel Recommends Against Prostate Screening

Watch out for unproven anti-aging treatments; do vitamins and supplements work?

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Panel Advises Against Routine Prostate Test

Men shouldn't be screened for prostate cancer with a common blood test, a federal advisory panel recommended Monday. In its new guidelines for prostate cancer screening, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force urged doctors not to use the popular PSA test to detect the disease. At best, it only helps about 1 in 1,000 men avoid death from prostate cancer, the panel said. And most of the cancers it detects are slow-growing, not life threatening, and will not cause a man any harm during his lifetime. Plus, testing often leads to treatment that leaves men incontinent, impotent, or both. The guideline isn't a mandate, however; men who want a PSA test can still get one, but only after their doctor explains the uncertainties, the Associated Press reports. In an editorial published with the guidelines in the Annals of Internal Medicine, some urologists argued that the panel underestimated PSA's value while overestimating its harms. "What PSA screening offers the men is a substantial opportunity to avoid dying a particularly unpleasant death from prostate cancer," said editorial co-author William Catalona of Northwestern University, who pioneered the testing.

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  •  Watch Out for Unproven Anti-Aging Treatments

    The anti-aging industry is booming. Twenty years ago, there was no such thing as an "anti-aging" or "longevity" clinic. Today, many major cities house dozens.

    Step inside one, and you'll likely encounter an assortment of remedies ranging from multivitamin cocktails to hormone injections to miracle pills that, if you believe the pitches, will guarantee you youthful entry into the triple digits.

    There's just one wrinkle. Although often lucrative for physicians, evidence suggests that many of the treatments anti-aging doctors tout don't actually work—and some may be downright dangerous. "You really have to be careful," says Loren Schechter, chairman of the patient safety committee for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "There are a lot of extravagant claims out there that simply don't check out when you look at the science."

    Consider vitamins and supplements, for example. Most are harmless and possibly helpful in moderate doses, but a growing body of evidence shows that in excess, they can cause problems. Getting too much vitamin A, for example, has been linked to osteoporosis, vitamin B to nerve damage, and vitamin E to cancer. [Read more: Watch Out for Unproven Anti-Aging Treatments]

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    • Vitamins and Supplements: Do They Work?

      Vitamins and dietary supplements are big—more than 110 million Americans forked over a collective $28 billion in 2010 on little bottles of would-be health magic. Research is unclear, however, on whether shoring up your diet with extra vitamins, minerals, and other supplements helps or hurts—in the short run or in reaching for the century mark.

      For more than a decade, for example, researchers followed more than 35,000 men enrolled in SELECT, a clinical trial designed to see whether taking selenium and vitamin E might help prevent prostate cancer. In 2008, study participants received phone calls and letters: Stop the pills. Not only was the answer "no," but vitamin E apparently increased the chance of prostate cancer, if very slightly, and selenium seemed to do the same to diabetes risk. Later the same year, researchers from the Physicians' Health Study-II reported that neither vitamin E nor vitamin C reduced the chances of major cardiovascular problems or cancer as hoped.

      That so many people seem to believe they need to boost their intake of vitamins and supplements is a triumph of marketing. Most Americans are well-nourished (besides being amply fed). Because much of our food is fortified with nutrients, once-common deficiency diseases such as scurvy and rickets, caused by inadequate vitamin C and D, respectively, have nearly disappeared in this and other developed countries. Researchers generally believe that with a few exceptions, like pregnant women or the elderly, most people don't need supplements. Over the 22-year course of the Iowa Women's Health Study, supplemental vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and zinc were associated with a slightly higher risk of premature death, copper to an 18 percent increased risk. Findings were published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study authors highlighted concerns about the long-term use of supplements and vitamins among those who do not have severe nutritional deficiencies. The pills, they concluded, are best used when recommended by doctors—not for general prevention. [Read more: Vitamins and Supplements: Do They Work?]