Extra screening does not improve diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new study investigating the potential benefits of the PSA blood test - used to help detect prostate cancer - has suggested that screening men every two years may not be any more effective than screening every four years.

Prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing has been available since the late 1980s, but a national prostate cancer screening programme has not been introduced in the UK because the benefits are as yet unproven.

However, UK men can ask their GP for the test if they are worried about prostate cancer.

Now, a study by researchers at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, looking at two European prostate screening programmes has revealed that while screening every two years does detect more prostate cancers, the number of aggressive cancers found between scheduled tests remains unaffected.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, suggests that shorter times between PSA tests may not be an effective way of preventing prostate cancer deaths.

Experts analysed data from two medical centres - one in Sweden, where 4,202 men were screened every two years, and the other in the Netherlands, where 13,301 men were screened every four years.

They found that the difference in the number of interval cancers diagnosed between screening tests and the number of aggressive interval cancers at the two centres was not statistically significant, suggesting that the two-year screening programme did not reduce the number of interval cancers.

Larger cancers were also identified with equal effectiveness regardless of whether men were tested every two or four years.

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK's cancer information nurse manager, commented: "The value of screening for prostate cancer remains unclear, so there is no prostate cancer screening programme at present in the UK. This study adds to the debate."

Mr Ledwick noted that a number of studies are currently taking place in the UK, Europe and the US to determine the value of prostate cancer screening. "When these trials are complete, we should have a much clearer idea of whether screening is helpful and if so, what men can realistically expect from it," he said.

In the meantime, Mr Ledwick advised: "If a man is concerned about prostate cancer or has any symptoms he should talk things through with his GP."