Prostate Cancer Screening: What You Need to Know

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A panel of cancer experts is recommending against testing for prostate-specific antigen (PSA), the most commonly used prostate cancer screen, in healthy men.

According to its review of the best available data, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) concludes that the potential harms of PSA testing — which include further, more invasive testing that may result in impotence and incontinence — outweigh any benefits in healthy men. The panel is expected to release on Tuesday a comprehensive report detailing the value of PSA testing, but the group’s draft recommendation was made public this week.

What does this mean for men who are concerned about prostate cancer? Here’s some information that can help you decide whether it’s right for you.

What is the PSA test?

The PSA test is a blood test that measures levels of prostate-specific antigen, a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland. It tends to show up on cancer cells, so higher levels of the antigen could be a sign of tumors. Men normally have low levels of PSA, but those levels may rise for reasons unrelated to cancer, which is why a high PSA level alone cannot be used to determine whether a man has cancer or some other benign condition.

What conditions other than prostate cancer can raise PSA levels?

There are many: benign growth of the prostate (the gland typically enlarges with age), infection or inflammation of the prostate, ejaculation, and riding a bicycle can all push PSA levels higher.

Who should get the PSA test?

Currently, there is no major medical group that recommends routine PSA testing, but millions of men over age 50 get it. The American Cancer Society, for example, does not have a specific recommendation for routine screening of healthy men without symptoms of prostate cancer, but it advises otherwise healthy men who have reason for concern about increased prostate risk to begin discussing screening with their doctors at age 50. That’s because the risk of prostate cancer tends to increase with age.

MORE: Saw Palmetto No Better Than Placebo for Prostate Symptoms

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