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Find out about screening for prostate cancer.

There is no national screening programme for prostate cancer because we don’t have a reliable enough test to use. Current tests have risks.

Talk to your GP if you think you are at higher than average risk of developing prostate cancer.

What screening is

Screening means testing people for early stages of an illness before they have any symptoms. For screening to be useful the tests:
  • must be reliable at picking up the illness
  • must be simple and quick
  • shouldn’t show that someone has the illness when they don’t (false positive results)
  • must not cause any harm

Not all screening tests are helpful and they can have risks.

PSA blood test

Your doctor might suggest that you have a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test. PSA is a protein produced by both normal and cancerous prostate cells. It is normal for all men to have some PSA in their blood. A high level of PSA can be a sign of cancer. But your PSA level can also be raised in prostate conditions that are not cancer (are benign) or infection.

A PSA test on its own doesn't normally diagnose prostate cancer. Your doctor will discuss the pros and cons of having the test.

Prostate cancer screening

Research has shown that using PSA for screening misses lots of men who do have prostate cancer. Many prostate cancers grow very slowly and don’t cause men any problems in their lifetime. Screening can lead to unnecessary diagnosis and treatment for some men, which can have serious side effects.

A European screening trial showed that screening could save some lives from prostate cancer. But other trials have shown no benefit. Many men have side effects from treatment and the risks of routine PSA screening outweigh the benefits.

Men at higher risk of prostate cancer

Some men are at higher risk of prostate cancer than others. These are:
  • black men
  • men who have a family history of prostate cancer
  • men who are overweight or obese – especially for advanced cancer

The risk of prostate cancer also increases as men get older.

The evidence so far doesn’t suggest that routinely screening these men would help prevent deaths from prostate cancer. In fact, it might lead to men having treatment for prostate cancer even though that cancer wouldn’t have caused any problems or symptoms.

It’s important for your GP to talk to you about your risk factors, age and any symptoms before you have any tests for prostate cancer.

What to do if you think you are at risk

Talk to your GP if you’re a man over 50, worried about your risk, and you want to have a PSA test. You can ask for a PSA test free of charge.

Last reviewed: 
05 Jul 2016
  • Incidence Statistics from Cancer Research UK (CancerStats)

  • A systematic review and meta‐analysis of familial prostate cancer risk
    LE Johns and RS Houlston
    British Journal Urology international, 2003. Vol 91, Issue 9

  • Mortality Results from a Randomized Prostate-Cancer Screening Trial
    GL Andriole and others
    The New England Journal of Medicine, 2009. Vol 360, Issue 13

  • Prostate cancer risk management programme (PCRMP): benefits and risks of PSA testing
    Public Health England, 2016

  • Randomised prostate cancer screening trial: 20 year follow-up
    G Sandblom and others
    British Medical Journal, 2011. Vol 342, Issue 1539

  • Screening and prostate cancer mortality: results of the European Randomised Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer (ERSPC) at 13 years of follow-up
    FH Schroder and others
    The Lancet, 2014. Vol 384, Issue 9959

  • UK National Screening Committee prostate cancer screening recommendation
    UK National Screening Committee, 2014

Information and help

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.​