Men's health * 50+ health

Prostate cancer tests "distressing"

Doctors must explain pros and cons

Doctors should warn men that being tested for prostate cancer may lead to anxiety and distress, even if they find out they don't have cancer, experts say.

The prostate specific antigen (PSA) is a blood test which measures the level of a protein made by the prostate gland. It is the only blood test available which can indicate a man may have prostate cancer.

But the PSA test is not specific for prostate cancer alone. PSA levels in the blood naturally increase with age and also are raised due to other prostate problems such as benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostatitis in addition to prostate cancer.

And around seven out of ten men with raised PSA levels don't have cancer.

Currently in the UK, men aged 50 and over can be tested if they wish.

In a study published in the British Journal of Cancer, 330 men aged 50 to 69 were monitored throughout the test for prostate cancer as a part of a Cancer Research UK funded study.

The researchers found that one in five men felt distressed at the prospect of having a biopsy after finding out they had raised PSA levels. A biopsy of prostate tissue is performed to rule out cancer.

And nine per cent continued to feel this way even after being told they don’t have cancer.

The team from the University of Bristol are calling for the psychological effects of testing to be clearly explained to men who ask for a PSA test.

Professor Kavita Vedhara, who led the study said: “At the moment, doctors are asked to warn men about the difficulties of interpreting the results of a PSA test. The test misses some cases and can produce false alarms.

“While it’s crucial that men are aware of the difficulties they may face when deciding what to do with their results, it’s also important they’re aware that they may find the whole process stressful.

“We also found that in some men, the psychological effects lasted even after the men were told their biopsy was benign.

“It’s essential that doctors know about this, and that men are fully informed of the psychological challenges they may face during and after a PSA test.”

Martin Ledwick, head cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK added: “For some men detecting prostate cancer early may be life-saving. However, the test will be abnormal for around one man in eight without cancer being detectable at that time.

“Further tests and biopsies are usually needed to rule out cancer for these men. This study shows just how important it is that men in their 50s and 60s can talk to their doctor about the pros and cons of having a PSA test and only have the test if they feel it is right for them.”

This article was published on Thu 8 April 2010

Image © Andrey Ushakov -

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