Should I be tested for prostate cancer?

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Summary media release information

31 August 2012
NHMRC Media Release
Contact for further information: 
David Cooper: 0422 008 512 or 02 6217 9121

National Health and Medical Research Council
Cancer Council Australia
Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia

Every man has the right to decide for himself whether or not to be tested for prostate cancer. But first he should be fully informed about the test and any possible follow-up procedures and treatment.

There is inconsistent advice surrounding the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test - a blood test commonly used to detect potential prostate cancer. Doctors and peak medical organisations are not united in their opinions on the efficacy of PSA testing nor on the balance of outcomes of subsequent tests and treatments.  

PSA testing may reduce mortality from prostate cancer but this needs to be backed up by a review of new and existing evidence. PSA testing can also detect some prostate cancers that will never present during a man’s lifetime and so can result in unnecessary treatments that may affect a man’s quality of life.

“The current situation regarding guidance on prostate cancer testing and treatment in Australia is far from ideal. Men receive inconsistent messages from leading organisations and their own doctors.  Our research indicates that 40% of men find advice about the usefulness of the PSA test is confusing,” said Dr Anthony Lowe, Chief Executive of Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA).

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Cancer Council Australia and PCFA are working together to improve the consistency of information for men and their doctors around this issue. Evidence about prostate cancer testing using the PSA test is about to be reviewed by the NHMRC.

Using the most up to date evidence, NHMRC will develop an information document on PSA testing in asymptomatic men.

“This document will assist doctors to provide men and their families with evidence-based information on the potential harms and benefits of testing and of any follow up investigations and treatments,” said Professor Anderson, Chief Executive Officer of NHMRC. “Men can then make an informed decision about whether to be tested for prostate cancer.”In addition, PCFA and CCA will be developing a clinical practice guideline, using NHMRC’s standards and procedures.  These guidelines will supplement NHMRC’s work by providing further clinical guidance for doctors consulting with men about having a PSA test.

Advisory committees have been established for both projects, comprising experts across Australia in areas such as general practice, medical oncology, urology, pathology, public health, epidemiology, Aboriginal and rural health, and evidence-based practice. Consumers are represented, and several members are on both committees, which will help with developing consistent messages.

According to the CEOs of NHMRC and CCA, Professors Warwick Anderson and Ian Olver, the formation of these committees is a positive first step to being able to better inform men about PSA testing.

“We all have a common goal and are working in unison with the key cancer groups and men’s health groups in Australia. NHMRC, CCA and PCFA are committed to working together so we can improve information for men, and guidelines that minimise the harms from testing and treatment,” they said.

For more information, visit the NHMRC website here.