On May 8th, the makers of the oncotype DX Prostate Cancer Test presented results of a large study demonstrating that their test can help men decide whether their prostate cancer carries a low enough risk of progression to forgo surgical or radiation therapy, two treatments that typically eradicate prostate cancers but also cause most men to experience impotence and incontinence.
Lacking such a test, many men have felt compelled to receive these aggressive treatments even though they know that most men in their position—with low grade cancer localized to the prostate—will not experience aggressive, metastatic disease. Low grade tumors—what are called Gleason 6 and 7 tumors based on how they look under a microscope—do not usually cause fatal illness.
But there are a couple problems with our current staging system, at least in the minds of most patients. It’s phrases like “don’t usually cause fatal illness”. Those are troublingly vague words for someone who has just found out he has a cancer diagnosis. It must mean that some of those tumors turn nasty.
Enter the Oncotype test. If the test is as good as experts hope it to be (warning: the results have not passed peer review muster yet), if the test better identifies safe tumors that have almost no chance of spreading, then men should be able to avoid those nasty treatments. And they should also be able to avoid the costs of being monitored every six months with prostate blood tests and biopsies.
But will human psychology interfere with optimal use of the Oncotype test? … (Read more and view comments at Forbes)