Millions of men get tested for prostate cancer.
But the standard PSA test can be misleading.
Healthy men need to weigh the risks and benefits.
By Chris Woolston
Like millions of American men, Brian Hines, 64, has a yearly ritual. Every fall, the Salem, Ore., resident has his blood checked for PSA (
pros-tate-specific antigen), a protein that can be an early
warning sign of prostate cancer. So far his numbers
have always been low, generally a sign that his prostate
is healthy and cancer-free.
But now, Hines says he might skip the test because
it may do nothing more than “buy you a ticket for the
Many general practitioners and urologists still recom-
mend regular PSA testing for all men, starting at about
age 50 until age 70 to 75. But other physicians—includ-
he lives long
ing many prominent experts on the front lines against
cancer—see the PSA as a highly flawed test that saves
few lives while turning many men into cancer patients,
with all the chemotherapy, radiation and surgery that
can come with the territory.
On the whole, the tide is turning against the PSA. The
American Cancer Society and other groups currently
recommend that men discuss the test with their doctors,
which is far from an enthusiastic endorsement. “No credible organization in the U.S. actually recommends that
men get screened for prostate cancer” without a thorough
discussion of the pros and cons, says Otis Brawley, M.D.,
chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.