Prostate Cancer: Screening

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about screening for prostate cancer. You will also learn the risks and benefits of screening. Use the menu to see other pages.

Screening is used to look for cancer before you have any symptoms or signs. When cancer is found earlier in its development, it is often at an earlier stage. This means that there is a better chance of successfully treating the cancer. 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 adults. 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 the rectum and feels the surface of the prostate through the bowel wall for any irregularities.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test

There is controversy about using the PSA test to look for prostate cancer in people with no symptoms of the disease. On the one hand, the PSA test is useful for detecting early-stage prostate cancer, especially in those with many risk factors, which helps some get the treatment they need before the cancer grows and spreads. On the other hand, PSA screening may find very-slow-growing prostate cancers that would never threaten someone's life. As a result, screening for prostate cancer using PSA may lead to treatments that are not needed, which can cause side effects and seriously affect a person's quality of life.

ASCO recommends that people with no symptoms of prostate cancer and who are expected to live less than 10 years do not receive PSA screening. For those expected to live longer than 10 years, ASCO recommends that they talk with their doctor to find out if the test is appropriate for them.

Other organizations have different recommendations for screening:

  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that adults between 55 and 69 should discuss the pros and cons of PSA screening with their doctor before making a decision about screening. People who are 70 and older should not have routine PSA screenings for prostate cancer.

  • The American Urological Association and the American Cancer Society recommend that people be told the risks and benefits of testing before PSA screening occurs and then make an informed decision in consultation with their doctor.

  • The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) considers a patient’s age, PSA value, DRE results, and other factors in their recommendations. Based on those risk factors and test results, repeat screening tests may be recommended every 2 to 4 years or 1 to 2 years.

It is not easy to predict which tumors will grow and spread quickly and which will grow slowly. Everyone should discuss with their doctor the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening based on their situation and personal risk of prostate cancer, so they can work together to make an informed decision.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what body changes or medical problems prostate cancer can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.