NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Benefits of Prostate Screening Have Not Been Determined

December 4, 2002

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among American men. An estimated 189,000 men will receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2002 and 30,200 men will die of the disease. However, screening for prostate cancer is controversial partly because many more men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer than will die of it.

According to the American Cancer Society:

  • There is good evidence that removal of the prostate (radical prostatectomy) reduces disease-specific mortality for men with localized prostate cancer detected during routine medical care.
  • But there is no conclusive direct evidence showing that screening reduces prostate cancer mortality.
  • Thus men with a life expectancy of fewer than 10 years are unlikely to benefit from screening even under favorable assumptions.

Although some screening tests can detect prostate cancer at an earlier stage than clinical detection, no study has examined the additional benefit of earlier treatment after detection by screening. Each treatment is associated with several well-documented potential harms. Although potential harms of screening for prostate cancer can be established, the presence or magnitude of potential benefits cannot. Therefore, the net benefit of screening cannot be determined.

Source: Russell Harris and Kathleen N. Lohr, "Screening for Prostate Cancer: An Update of the Evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force," Annals of Internal Medicine, December 3, 2002.


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