Experts advise against mass screening programme for prostate cancer

In collaboration with Adfero

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) has advised against introducing a population screening programme for prostate cancer, after a review revealed that the harms involved with using the PSA test to screen for the disease would outweigh the benefits.

Scientists at the Sheffield School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) carried out the review, which looked at the harms, benefits and financial implications of screening different age ranges for prostate cancer.

Dr Anne Mackie, director of the UK NSC programme, said that she was "confident" the committee had made the right decision, which will be reviewed in three years' time, or sooner if new evidence emerges.

"This advice is based on the latest research evidence and informed by a range of groups, including healthcare professionals and patient representatives," she explained.

"The NHS Cancer Screening Programme will continue to provide advice to help men who are concerned about prostate cancer to make informed decisions about their health."

While the decision means that a population-wide prostate cancer screening programme will not be introduced, men over 50 can still ask to have the PSA test. They will need to approach their GP who will first give them full information about the test.

The test measures levels of a protein in the blood called prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which can be raised in men with prostate cancer.

However, elevated PSA can also be a sign of a non-cancerous enlarged prostate or an infection, so it is not particularly accurate as a screening tool.

Professor Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said that patients and GPs can get information about the PSA test through the Prostate Cancer Risk Management Programme (PCRMP).

She revealed: "We redeveloped the PCRMP pack last year, assisting primary care practitioners in providing the latest advice to their patients, helping men to make an informed decision about whether or not to have a PSA test. This pack can be found on our website."

Professor Patnick added: "In the meantime, men should speak to their GP if they have any concerns. Any man over the age of 50 who, after careful consideration of the implications, requests a PSA test should be given one."

Hazel Nunn, Cancer Research UK's senior health information manager, said: "Cancer Research UK believes there is not enough evidence at the moment to suggest that a national screening programme using routine PSA testing for prostate cancer would benefit the population, over and above the potential risks.

"But we urgently need to find out whether some specific groups of men might benefit from PSA testing. Cancer Research UK scientists are among those working to distinguish between aggressive tumours that need immediate, intensive treatment, and slow-growing tumours which may not require treatment at all."