04/16/2010 - Articles

Prostate cancer screening - yes or no?

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in men. It is curable if detected early, which is why the issue of prostate cancer screening ought to be on every man’s health agenda. However, there has been considerable debate over who should be screened for prostate cancer, and how often. Dr Edward Partridge, president-elect of the American Cancer Society (ACS) and also Director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center now discusses the new ACS guidelines on prostate cancer screening.

Partridge helped formulate these new guidelines and says ‘We reaffirm the importance of informed and shared decision-making between a man and his doctor regarding prostate cancer screening. We want people talking openly and honestly with a health-care provider about the pros and cons of these tests to be in a better position to understand the results. Prostate cancer screening usually means a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, backed up by a digital rectal exam.

The ACS recommends that men aged 50 with no symptoms and in good health should talk to their doctor about prostate cancer screening. Those at higher risk of prostate cancer – African-Americans and those with a close male relative developing the disease before age 65 – should begin thinking about screening at age 45. And the process should begin at age 40 if a man is very high risk, with several affected family members.

If a man cannot decide whether to go for prostate cancer screening, the ACS says the doctor should make the decision for him, taking his preferences and values into account. The new guidelines say the digital rectal exam part should be optional and that the interval between screenings can be extended if PSA levels are low.

Men and their doctors should be aware of the limitations of screening. If prostate cancer is diagnosed, there is no real way of telling if it will be relatively benign or aggressive. Research is needed to establish better ways of detecting and treating prostate cancer. This may eventually lead to better ways of prostate cancer screening than those that are currently available.



University of Alabama at Birmingham 4th March 2010


Created on: 04/16/2010
Reviewed on: 04/16/2010

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