A new study shows that when men with prostate cancer were diagnosed after developing symptoms rather than after screening tests, they had a higher risk of dying from heart problems or other cancers rather than the prostate cancer itself.

The findings, published in the British Journal of Urology International, are based on a subgroup of men aged 55 to 74 who participated in a European clinical trial on prostate cancer screening. The men were randomly assigned to either undergo periodic prostate cancer screening or be part of a control group that had standard health care.

The researchers followed death rates among 372 men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer through screening, comparing them with 1,488 men who were screened but found to be cancer-free. In addition, they tracked 221 men in the standard-care group who’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer after developing symptoms, and 884 men from the control group who had not been diagnosed with the cancer.

In the latter group, the researchers found that men with prostate cancer were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease or other types of cancer over the next six years, while the men whose prostate cancer had been diagnosed after screening showed no increased risk of death compared with men free of prostate cancer.

Dr. Anthony D’Amico of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston, who wasn’t involved in the research, isn’t quite sure what to make of the findings, but says they raise questions for future studies.

“This is not something that would change clinical practice,” he told Reuters Health. “[It's] a study of associations, and does not prove cause-and-effect.”

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