(HealthDay News) — For older men with abnormal prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, performance of prostate biopsies is uncommon and decreases with advancing age and worsening comorbidity, according to a study published online April 15 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Louise C. Walter, M.D., from San Francisco Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center and University, and colleagues followed 295,645 men, aged 65 years or older, who underwent PSA screening in the VA health care system in 2003, for five years.

The researchers found that 8.5 percent of the cohort had an index PSA level exceeding 4.0 ng/mL. Thirty-three percent underwent at least one prostate biopsy during follow-up; 62.8 percent of these were diagnosed as having prostate cancer; and 82.1 percent received treatment for prostate cancer. There was a significant decrease in prostate biopsy performance with advancing age and worsening comorbidity. For men with biopsy-detected cancer, treatment exceeded 75 percent even among men aged 85 years or older, those with a Charlson-Deyo Comorbidity Index of 3 or higher, and those with low-risk cancer. The risk of death from nonprostate cancer causes increased significantly with advancing age and worsening comorbidity among men with biopsy-detected cancer. Within seven days after prostate biopsy, 5.6 percent of men experienced complications. Treatment-related complications included new urinary incontinence (13.6 percent) and new erectile dysfunction (13.7 percent).

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“Decisions to pursue PSA screening should include individualized discussion about when to pursue biopsy and treatment because these steps substantially affect downstream outcomes of screening in clinical practice,” write the authors.

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