Screening for Prostate Cancer with Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Testing: American Society of Clinical Oncology Provisional Clinical Opinion

Published in Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 30, Issue 24 (August), 2012: 3020-3025
Ethan Basch, Thomas K. Oliver, Andrew Vickers, Ian Thompson, Philip Kantoff, Howard Parnes, D. Andrew Loblaw, Bruce Roth, James Williams, and Robert K. Nam

Purpose: An American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) provisional clinical opinion (PCO) offers timely clinical direction to the ASCO membership after publication or presentation of potentially practice-changing data from major studies. This PCO addresses the role of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing in the screening of men for prostate cancer.

Clinical Context: Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men in the United States. The rationale for screening men for prostate cancer is the potential to reduce the risk of death through early detection.

Recent Data: Evidence from a 2011 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality systematic review primarily informs this PCO on the benefits and harms of PSA-based screening. An update search was conducted to March 16, 2012, for additional evidence related to the topic.

Results: In one randomized trial, PSA testing in menwho would not otherwise have been screened resulted in reduced death rates from prostate cancer, but it is uncertain whether the size of the effect was worth the harms associated with screening and subsequent unnecessary treatment. Although there are limitations to the existing data, there is evidence to suggest that men with longer life expectancy may benefit from PSA testing. Adverse events associated with prostate biopsy are low for the majority of men; however, several population-based studies have shown increasing rates of infectious complications after prostate biopsy, which is a concern.

Provisional Clinical Opinion: On the basis of identified evidence and the expert opinion of the panel:

  • In men with a life expectancy<10 years,* it is recommended that general screening for prostate cancer with total PSA be discouraged, because harms seem to outweigh potential benefits.
  • In men with a life expectancy>10 years,* it is recommended that physicians discuss with their patients whether PSA testing for prostate cancer screening is appropriate for them. PSA testing may save lives but is associated with harms, including complications, from unnecessary biopsy, surgery, or radiation treatment.
  • It is recommended that information written in lay language be available to clinicians and their patients to facilitate the discussion of the benefits and harms associated with PSA testing before the routine ordering of a PSA test.

*Calculation of life expectancy is based on a variety of individual factors and circumstances. A number of life expectancy calculators (eg, http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/population/longevity.html) are available in the public domain; however, ASCO does not endorse any one calculator over another.

Disclaimer: The clinical practice guidelines and other guidance published herein are provided by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. ("ASCO") to assist practitioners in clinical decision making. The information therein should not be relied upon as being complete or accurate, nor should it be considered as inclusive of all proper treatments or methods of care or as a statement of the standard of care. With the rapid development of scientific knowledge, new evidence may emerge between the time information is developed and when it is published or read. The information is not continually updated and may not reflect the most recent evidence. The information addresses only the topics specifically identified therein and is not applicable to other interventions, diseases, or stages of diseases. This information does not mandate any particular course of medical care. Further, the information is not intended to substitute for the independent professional judgment of the treating physician, as the information does not account for individual variation among patients. Recommendations reflect high, moderate or low confidence that the recommendation reflects the net effect of a given course of action. The use of words like "must," "must not," "should," and "should not" indicate that a course of action is recommended or not recommended for either most or many patients, but there is latitude for the treating physician to select other courses of action in individual cases. In all cases, the selected course of action should be considered by the treating physician in the context of treating the individual patient. Use of the information is voluntary. ASCO provides this information on an "as is" basis, and makes no warranty, express or implied, regarding the information. ASCO specifically disclaims any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular use or purpose. ASCO assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of this information or for any errors or omissions.

Last Updated: 7/16/12