Prostate Cancer Screening

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Prostate Cancer Screening

Topic Overview

Screening for prostate cancer—checking for signs of the disease when there are no symptoms—is done with the digital rectal examination and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. About 25,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Canada every year.1 In the United States, about 17 out of 100 men will get prostate cancer. Out of these 17 men, 3 will die of prostate cancer. This means that 97 out of 100 of these men will die from something other than prostate cancer.2

The number of deaths caused by prostate cancer has dropped over the past 15 years. The decrease has been linked to more cases of early diagnosis and to better cancer treatment. It is not yet known if PSA testing actually saves lives or if the benefits of having PSA screening are worth the harms of follow-up tests and cancer treatments.

Finding prostate cancer early leads you to some big decisions. Most prostate cancer grows slowly. And the side effects of treatment can change your quality of life—mainly not being able to have an erection (impotence) and not being able to control urination (incontinence). If you are older with other serious health problems, these side effects may seem worse than early-stage cancer that may not grow much during your lifetime. But for active or younger men, treatment may help them live longer.

So before you decide to have a PSA test, talk with your doctor. Ask about your risk for prostate cancer, and discuss the pros and cons of testing. Some men will not want to live with the side effects of treatment. Other men are more concerned about survival. It is important to learn all you can and talk to your doctor before making a decision.

Click here to view a Decision Point. Prostate Cancer Screening: Should I Have a PSA Test?

After reviewing research on routine screening for prostate cancer, the Canadian Cancer Society recommends that all men older than age 50 discuss with their doctor the potential benefits and risks of early detection methods. Men with a family history of prostate cancer or of African ancestry may wish to discuss the need for testing at a younger age.3

For more information, see the topic Prostate Cancer.



  1. Canadian Cancer Society, Public Health Agency of Canada, and Statistics Canada (2010). Canadian Cancer Statistics 2010. Toronto: Canadian Cancer Society. Available online:
  2. Zelefsky MJ, et al. (2008). Cancer of the prostate. In VT DeVita Jr et al., eds., Devita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology, 8th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1392–1452. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  3. Canadian Cancer Society (2007). Prostate cancer: Can it be prevented? Available online:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer J. Curtis Nickel, MD, FRCSC - Urology
Last Revised September 27, 2010

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