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 cancerSome 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.