Prostate Cancer: Screening

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about screening for this type of cancer. You will also learn the risks and benefits of screening. To see other pages, use the menu.

Screening is used to look for cancer before you have any symptoms or signs. Scientists have developed, and continue to develop, tests that can be used to screen a person for specific types of cancer. The overall goals of cancer screening are to:

  • Lower the number of people who die from the disease, or eliminate deaths from cancer altogether

  • Lower the number of people who develop the disease

Learn more about the basics of cancer screening.

Screening information for prostate cancer

Screening for prostate cancer is done to find evidence of cancer in otherwise healthy men. Two tests are commonly used to screen for prostate cancer:

  • Digital rectal examination (DRE). A DRE is a test in which the doctor inserts a gloved lubricated finger into a man’s rectum and feels the surface of the prostate for any irregularities.

  • PSA blood test. There is controversy about using the PSA test to look for prostate cancer in men with no symptoms of the disease. On one hand, the PSA test is useful for detecting early-stage prostate cancer, which helps many men get the treatment they need before the cancer spreads. On the other hand, PSA screening finds conditions that are not cancer, in addition to prostate cancers that would never threaten a man’s life. As a result, screening for prostate cancer may mean that some men have surgery and other treatments that may not be needed and may seriously affect a man’s quality of life.

    ASCO recommends that men with no symptoms of prostate cancer be discouraged from PSA screening if they are expected to live less than 10 years. For men expected to live longer than 10 years, ASCO recommends that they talk with their doctors to find out if the test is appropriate for them.

    Other organizations have different recommendations for screening:

    • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has concluded that the potential risks of PSA screening in healthy men outweigh the potential benefits. This task force may revisit screening for prostate cancer because of the availability of newer and more sophisticated tests.

    • Both the American Urological Association and the American Cancer Society recommend that men be told the risks and benefits of testing before PSA screening occurs.

    • The National Comprehensive Cancer Network considers a patient’s age, PSA value, DRE results, and other factors in their recommendations.

It is not easy to predict which tumors will grow and spread quickly and which will grow slowly. Every man should discuss his situation and personal risk of prostate cancer with his doctor so they can work together to make a decision.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs, and it explains what body changes or medical problems this disease can cause. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.