KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Doctors are reporting a big increase over a decade in men diagnosed with prostate cancer that's metastatic. That means it's already spread beyond the prostate. The finding raises the question of whether doctors have become too lax in screening for the common cancer.
Jeff Jernigan's fight started more than 11-years ago. Chemotherapy is his latest treatment for prostate cancer that had spread beyond the gland when it was diagnosed. It is treatable but not curable.
"Thank God we've had the ability to move to other meds for this disease because when I was diagnosed there wasn't much at all," Jernigan said.
A new study from Northwestern University finds many more men are getting that same diagnosis. Between 2004 and 2013, there was a 72 percent increase in new cases of metastatic prostate cancer.
Dr. Jeff Holzbeierlein, a urologic oncologist at the University of Kansas Hospital, says it's possible the disease is becoming more aggressive, and he points to another likely reason for the increase.
"We're seeing screening, PSA screening rates drop," he said.
In 2008, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said fewer men should get the blood test. Then in 2012, it recommended against PSA screening altogether, saying it didn't save many lives and had lots of false positive results.
"I think the message that came out was we shouldn't be screening, but I think the message that should come out should be that we should be screening more intelligently" Dr. Holzbeierlein said.
He said screening should be based on age and other risk factors. He favors the American Urological Association guidelines which say men between 55 and 69 should at least talk with their doctors about PSA screening. In the new study, that age group had the biggest increase in metastatic prostate cancer cases.
"If I hadn't had my PSA checked, I wouldn't be here today for sure. It'll save your life. It saved mine for sure," Jernigan said.
The government task force is reviewing the latest evidence which could lead to changes in its recommendation against PSA screening. The study is in the journal Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases.