PSA test: Pros and cons of prostate cancer screening

Deciding whether to undergo prostate cancer screening requires careful consideration of the benefits and limitations of testing.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

When considering a PSA test for prostate cancer screening, consider the benefits and limitations of the test. Whether to undergo prostate cancer screening is something you and your doctor can decide by also considering your risk factors and weighing your personal preferences.

There are a number of pros and cons to the PSA test.

Pros of PSA screening Cons of PSA screening
PSA screening may help you detect prostate cancer early. Some prostate cancers are slow growing and never spread beyond the prostate gland.
Cancer is easier to treat and is more likely to be cured if it's diagnosed in the early stages of the disease. Not all prostate cancers need treatment. Treatment for prostate cancer may have risks and side effects, including urinary incontinence, erectile dysfunction or bowel dysfunction.
PSA testing can be done with a simple, widely available blood test. PSA tests aren't foolproof. It's possible for your PSA levels to be elevated when cancer isn't present, and to not be elevated when cancer is present.
For some men, knowing is better than not knowing. Having the test can provide you with a certain amount of reassurance — either that you probably don't have prostate cancer or that you do have it and can now have it treated. A diagnosis of prostate cancer can provoke anxiety and confusion. Concern that the cancer may not be life-threatening can make decision-making complicated.
The number of deaths from prostate cancer has gone down since PSA testing became available. It's not yet clear whether the decrease in deaths from prostate cancer is due to early detection and treatment based on PSA testing or due to other factors.

A positive PSA test can be a lifesaver for some men, identifying prostate cancer that needs treatment early. It's generally a good idea to have PSA testing done if you're at increased risk of prostate cancer.

However, not all men need to undergo prostate cancer screening. You may want to think twice if you're in a group of men unlikely to benefit from it.

After considering the pros and cons of screening, talk to your doctor. Together you can make the right decision for you.

Apr. 28, 2014 See more In-depth