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From the Prostate Cancer Research Desk: Benefits of COVID-19 Vaccines, PSA Screening

In this roundup of recent prostate cancer research, data from the U.S. Veterans Health Administration yields insights into the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination and of PSA screening.

COVID-19 vaccination protects patients with cancer against infection and death

In case you needed another reason to get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster, a new study using the large, comprehensive database from the U.S. Veterans Health Administration quantifies the benefits among patients with cancer.

A team at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, one of PCF’s VA Centers of Excellence, used data on more than 300,000 Veterans between December, 2020 and January, 2022, a timeframe which includes the delta and omicron waves in the U.S. Half of these patients had been diagnosed with cancer and were “matched” to a similar patient without cancer using information on age, gender, race, health conditions, and vaccination status. Prostate cancer was the most common cancer in the study, with more than 50,000 Veterans diagnosed.

The results showed that vaccination was highly effective across different types of cancer: rates of infection were 8% among vaccinated vs. 47% among unvaccinated Veterans. Rates of death after infection were 5% among vaccinated vs. 10% among unvaccinated. Among patients with prostate cancer, the vaccine was 93% effective against COVID-19 infection and 93% effective against death within 30 days of infection.

Some patients, such as those with lung cancer or hematologic cancer, and patients undergoing certain therapies, were more vulnerable. The authors conclude that, “despite differences in efficacy, vaccination was exceptionally beneficial and should be encouraged for all patients with a diagnosis of cancer.”

PSA screening lowers the risk of death from prostate cancer in both Black and White men

Black men are about 75% more likely be diagnosed with prostate cancer and more than twice as likely to die of the disease vs White men. The value of PSA screening has been debated over the years, and there has not been enough evidence on the effect of screening in certain subpopulations, such as Black men.

Researchers aimed to determine whether PSA screening lowers the risk of dying of prostate cancer, using data from the U.S. Veterans Health Administration. They analyzed medical records of nearly 46,000 Veterans diagnosed with intermediate-, high- or very high-risk prostate cancer. Results showed that for non-Hispanic Black men, PSA screening was linked to 44% lower risk of prostate cancer death. Similarly, in non-Hispanic White men, the risk of death was 42% lower among men who were screened.

More information is also needed to better define the optimal frequency of PSA screening. Black men who were screened annually were 35% less likely to die of prostate cancer compared to Black men screened less frequently. A benefit of annual (vs. less frequent) screening was not seen in White men. This suggests that for Black men in particular, annual PSA screening may be important.

Becky Campbell
Becky Campbell develops medical content at the Prostate Cancer Foundation. She has previously worked in outcomes research and in science education.