Prostate-specific antigen screening for prostate cancer and the risk of overt metastatic disease at presentation

4 min


There has been much discussion recently regarding the benefits and risks of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing. In America the revived debate has been prompted by the US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement (2012) recommending against screening.

In Australia, a debate was held at a recent prostate cancer conference on the issue of PSA testing, with prominent prostate cancer clinicians putting forward opposing views.

This recent US publication in the Journal Cancer has added more data to the mix; it reports on the effect of PSA testing on incidence of advanced prostate cancer.


The objective of the study was to estimate the total number of patients who would be expected to present with metastatic (M1) prostate cancer (PC) in the modern US population in a given year if the age-specific and race-specific annual incidence rates of M1 PC were the same as the rates in the era before prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing.


The authors computed the total number of men who presented with M1 PC in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) 9 registries area in the year 2008 (the most recent SEER year) and estimated the number of cases that would be expected to occur in this area in the year 2008 in the absence of PSA testing.

The expected number was computed by multiplying each age-race–specific average annual incidence rate from the pre-PSA era (1983-1985) by the number of men in the corresponding age-race category in the year 2008 and adding the products.


In the year 2008, the observed and expected numbers of men presenting with M1 PC in the SEER 9 registries area were 739 and 2277, respectively, with an expected-to-observed ratio of 3.1 (95% confidence interval, 3.0-3.2).

If this ratio was applied to the total US population in the year 2008, then the total number of men presenting with M1 PC in that year would be equal to approximately 25,000 instead of the approximately 8000 actually observed.

The data also suggest that the benefits of screening, with respect to a reduction in risk for presenting with metastatic disease, may increase with age.


If the pre-PSA era rates were present in the modern US population, then the total number of men presenting with M1 PC would be approximately 3 times greater than the number actually observed.

Did you find this page helpful?

Information provided on this website is not a substitute for medical advice

Call 000 for emergency services

If you or someone you know needs urgent medical attention.

Call MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 for 24/7 support

MensLine Australia is a telephone and online counselling service for men with emotional health and relationship concerns.

Sign up to our newsletter

We release two monthly newsletters – one written for men, family and friends, and another for health practitioners.

Your preferred mailing list

Your name

Your email

Stay up to date


Healthy Male acknowledges the traditional owners of the land. We pay our respects to elders past, present and future. We are committed to providing respectful, inclusive services and work environments where all individuals feel accepted, safe, affirmed and celebrated.


Healthy Male is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. This website does not host any form of advertisement. Information provided on this website is not a substitute for medical advice.

Trusted information partner of