Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in men with 250,000 new cases every year. The disease can be detected by screening with a PSA blood test and a digital rectal exam. Some men with prostate cancer will go on to treatment and are at risk for complications including impotence or erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence or leaking urine.
The American Urologic Association has just released new guidelines for prostate cancer screening that I would like to share with you and hope that you can use this information to make a decision if prostate cancer screening is appropriate for you.
Guideline Statement 1: The Panel recommends against PSA screening in men under age 40 years. In this age group there is a low prevalence of clinically detectable prostate cancer, no evidence demonstrating benefit of screening and likely the same harms of screening as in other age groups.
Guideline Statement 2: The Panel does not recommend routine screening in men between ages 40 to 54 years at average risk, i.e., those men who do not have a family member with prostate cancer or men of African American race. For men younger than age 55 years at higher risk (e.g. positive family history or African American race), decisions regarding prostate cancer screening should be individualized.
Guideline Statement 3: For men ages 55 to 69 years the Panel recognizes that the decision to undergo PSA screening involves weighing the benefits of preventing prostate cancer mortality in 1 man for every 1,000 men screened over a decade against the known potential harms associated with screening and treatment. For this reason, the Panel strongly recommends shared decision-making between doctor and patient for men age 55 to 69 years that are considering PSA screening, and proceeding based on a man’s values and preferences. The greatest benefit of screening appears to be in men ages 55 to 69 years.
Guideline Statement 4: To reduce the harms of screening, a routine screening interval of two years or more may be preferred over annual screening in those men who have participated in shared decision-making and decided on screening. As compared to annual screening, it is expected that screening intervals of two years preserve the majority of the benefits and reduce overdiagnosis and false positives. Additionally, intervals for rescreening can be individualized by a baseline PSA level.
Guideline Statement 5: The Panel does not recommend routine PSA screening in men over age 70 years or any man with less than a 10 to 15 year life expectancy.
Some men over age 70 years who are in excellent health may benefit from prostate cancer screening.
Bottom Line: I think not to screen men at all is probably not a good idea. However, in selected men, the decision not to screen is probably a good one. I do believe that men need to have a discussion with their doctors and decide on a case by case basis whether or not to screen for prostate cancer using the PSA test.