Screening for prostate cancer—checking for signs of the disease when there are no symptoms—may be done with the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. About 21,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Canada every year.footnote 1 But most men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer don't die from prostate cancer.
Deciding whether to get PSA testing can be hard. Few, if any men, are helped to live longer by having the test. Depending on your age and risk, it may be helpful or it may be harmful.
Many prostate cancers grow so slowly that they will never cause a problem and are not life-threatening. Fast-growing, more dangerous types of prostate cancer occur less often. The test can help find prostate cancer early. Treatment may help some men with fast-growing cancers live longer. But treatment can cause problems, such as leaking urine or not being able to have an erection. If cancer is found, it isn't clear if the cancer will turn out to be a rare, life-threatening case, so men often get unnecessary treatment.
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.
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that men talk to their doctor about the potential benefits and risks of prostate cancer screening at about age 50.footnote 2 Men with higher risk may wish to discuss the need for screening at a younger age.
Your doctor may recommend PSA testing if you have an increased risk of getting prostate cancer. Some things that put men at a higher risk include:
- Being of African ancestry.
- Having a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65.
- Knowing that a gene change, such as BRCA, runs in your family.
For more information, see the topic Prostate Cancer.
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- Canadian Cancer Society's Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics (2017). Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society. Available online: http://www.cancer.ca/~/media/cancer.ca/CW/cancer%20information/cancer%20101/Canadian%20cancer%20statistics/Canadian-Cancer-Statistics-2017-EN.pdf?la=en.
- Canadian Cancer Society (2018). Why testing for prostate cancer is different from other cancers. Available online: http://www.cancer.ca/en/prevention-and-screening/reduce-cancer-risk/find-cancer-early/find-prostate-cancer/why-testing-for-prostate-cancer-is-different-from-other-cancers. Accessed December 18, 2018.
Current as ofDecember 19, 2018
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Christopher G. Wood MD, FACS - Urology, Oncology
Current as of: December 19, 2018