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Prostate Cancer Screening: Making a Decision

Man talking to healthcare provider in exam room.
Talking with your healthcare provider will help you make an informed decision about prostate cancer screening.

Should you be screened for prostate cancer, even if you have no symptoms? If you are ages 55-69, you should make a personal decision whether or not you are going to be screened for prostate cancer with the PSA test. You and your healthcare provider should discuss the balance of benefits vs. harms.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) advises that men ages 55-69 talk with their healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening. Screening with the PSA blood test may lower the chance of death for some men. But the test isn’t for every man. And PSA screening is not recommended for men ages 70 and older.

Here are some things to think about as you make a decision. Talk with your healthcare provider, so you can make the choice that's right for you.

Why prostate cancer screening is controversial

Not all healthcare providers agree that prostate cancer screening is useful. This is because:

  • PSA test results are not always correct. In some cases, the PSA test can have false-positive or false-negative results.

    • A false-positive means that test results suggest a man may have cancer when he doesn’t. This can lead to more tests which can lead to stress and possible harm from the tests. 

    • A false-negative means that test results don’t suggest cancer when a man does have cancer. This can mean you don't get the additional tests or the treatment you need.

  • Finding prostate cancer early may not be helpful. Even if screening does help find cancer early, prostate cancer often grows slowly and most often affects older men. This means that finding it early may not lead to a longer life. Many men with prostate cancer die years later of other causes. They may never have symptoms or need treatment for the cancer. But healthcare providers can’t always tell which cancers are likely to grow fast and should be treated. And, even if a cancer is slow-growing, a man may prefer to have it treated. Treatment for prostate cancer can have major side effects. These include erection problems (erectile dysfunction) and lack of urine control (incontinence).

Talking with your healthcare provider

Your healthcare provider can help you understand the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening. This can help you make the right decision for you. Ask any questions you have about screening. Talk with your healthcare provider about:

  • Your personal risk for prostate cancer based on your age, race, and family history

  • What the screening test results can and can’t tell you

  • What the next steps would be if the test results show you might have prostate cancer

  • What your choices would be for treating or not treating right away

  • What the treatment choices are if you were to have treatment and what the side effects might be.

To learn more

For more information about the risks and benefits associated with prostate cancer screening, see:

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 2/1/2020
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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