St. Mark's Hospital - May 10, 2019

For men over 55, prostate cancer screenings used to be routine. Now, doctors and their patients are taking a more cautious approach.

In 2018, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated its guidelines for prostate cancer screening. The guidelines recommend no routine prostate cancer screenings for men over 70, but men who are 55–69 years old should decide whether to get screened after discussing the potential benefits and risks with a doctor.

The screening test itself is not what’s risky. Doctors use a simple blood test to measure levels of a protein known as prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The problem is that the test too often produces false positive results, which lead to unnecessary biopsies. And that’s where the risks start.

Potential side effects of prostate biopsy include pain, bleeding or infection. If the biopsy shows cancer, treatments like surgery, radiation or hormone therapy can cause erectile dysfunction or urinary incontinence.

Aren’t those side effects better than dying from cancer? Sure, but research also shows that between 20 and 50 percent of prostate cancers never grow, spread or harm the man during his lifetime, according to the USPSTF. It’s hard to believe, but true!

Speak to your doctor to determine if screening is right for you.