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Prostate Cancer Screening: Making a Decision

Should you be screened for prostate cancer every year? Even if you have no symptoms? Experts disagree. Here are some things to think about as you make a decision. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider, too, so you can make the choice that's right for you.

Man talking to healthcare provider in exam room.
Talking with your healthcare provider will help you make an informed decision about prostate cancer screening.

Why prostate cancer screening is under debate

Not all healthcare providers agree that prostate cancer screening is useful. This is because:

  • PSA test results are not always right.  In some cases, the PSA test can have false-positive or false-negative results.

    • A false-positive means that test results show a man may have cancer when he doesn’t. This can lead to more tests, which can lead to stress and possible harm from the tests. 

    • A false-negative means that test results do not show cancer when a man does have it. This can mean you don't get the other tests or the treatment you need.

  • Finding prostate cancer early may not be helpful. Even if screening does help find cancer early, prostate cancer often grows slowly and most often affects older men. This means that finding it early may not lead to a longer life. Many men with prostate cancer die years later of other causes. They may never have symptoms or be treated for the cancer. But healthcare providers can’t always tell which cancers are likely to grow fast and should to be treated. And even if a cancer is slow-growing, a man may want it treated. Treatment for prostate cancer can have major side effects. These include erection problems (erectile dysfunction) and lack of urine control (incontinence).

Talking with your healthcare provider

Expert groups advise that men talk with their healthcare providers about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening. This can help you make the right decision for you. Ask any questions you have about screening. Talk with your healthcare provider about:

  • Your personal risk for prostate cancer based on your age, race, and family history

  • What the screening test results can and can’t tell you

  • What the next steps would be if the test results show you might have prostate cancer

  • What your choices would be for treating or not treating right away

  • What the treatment choices are if you were to have treatment and what the side effects might be

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2019
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