Nightly News   |  October 06, 2011

Prostate exam may not be good screening tool

The prostate-specific antigen test that men have come to expect at a certain age is not a good screening tool and does not routinely need to be done, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Also, learn more about pancreatic cancer. NBC’s Nancy Snyderman reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We're back, as we mentioned, with a potential game changer in health news. And here is the headline from The New York Times website; got our attention tonight. Dr. Nancy Snyderman , our chief medical editor, joins us here in our studio. "US panel advises against routine prostate test." What is this story about?

Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: This is a little bit of a controversy that's spinning -- been spinning around in the medical arenas for quite some time, the risk benefit ratio of that routine blood test that men are so accustomed to. So now it's expected that that is going to play out with the US Preventative Task Force . On Tuesday it is expected that this force -- this is the same group that suggested changing mammography guidelines a couple of years ago. It is expected that they will issue new recommendations that that PSA test that men routinely take to check for prostate cancer may not be a good screening test at all and should not be

routinely done. And here's why: The concern is that this test can be elevated even with benign problems like inflammation or an enlarged prostate, and then once you have that elevated test, that leads you to a biopsy, unnecessary treatment. As we talk about economics, Brian , it comes back to not hurting the patient, not spending undue money.

WILLIAMS: And of course cancer is part of our lead story tonight.

SNYDERMAN: It sure is.

WILLIAMS: Cancer got Steve Jobs . "All the king's horses and all the king's men."

SNYDERMAN: No, it's really a humbling thing and, I think, one of those things that we have to talk about in life, that there is death. And no doubt that once Steve Jobs got his diagnosis, he knew the inevitability of all of this, yet he had a very rare form of the disease that only occurs in about 5 percent of the 43,000 cases of pancreatic cancer that occur every year in this country. He was treated with surgery, followed up with a liver transplant in 2008 , and he survived in a little more than seven years, which is really way against the odds of other people. And a lot of people would say, Brian , not only great medical treatment , but he had this passion for work.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, that's right.

SNYDERMAN: And so, yes, it was a shock even though it was expected.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Nancy Snyderman . Thank you, as always.