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The purpose of screening is early diagnosis and treatment. Screening tests are administered to people who may be at high risk for certain diseases or conditions, but do not have any symptoms.

Screening Guidelines

Using the PSA test as a screening tool is a controversial topic. The US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Academy of Family Physicians do not recommend this test due to the potential harms outweighing the benefits. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that men talk to their doctors about the benefits and risks of the PSA test. The USPSTF also points out the importance of discussing this screening test with your doctor.

The PSA test measures the levels of PSA in your blood. PSA is a chemical produced in the prostate gland and released into the bloodstream. Prostate cancer, with its overabundance of rapidly dividing prostate cells, tends to increase PSA levels. An elevation in PSA levels may also occur as a result of:

If your PSA is elevated, it does not necessarily mean you have cancer. Depending on your PSA level, physical exam, and risk factors, your doctor may suggest other options, such as:

  • Repeating the test at a later date
  • Ordering other tests
  • Doing a biopsy of the prostate gland to determine if cancer is present

A digital rectal exam may be done as part of a normal physical exam, but it is not considered a screening test. The doctor inserts one gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum and feels the contours of your prostate through the rectal wall. If there is a tumor in the prostate gland and it is large enough, the doctor may be able to feel it. However, some cancers may be so small that they cannot be felt during this exam.


Prostate cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed October 2, 2015.

Prostate cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated November 2013. Accessed October 2, 2015.

Prostate cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated August 21, 2015. Accessed October 2, 2015.

4/1/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Choosing wisely. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated July 23, 2015. Accessed October 2, 2015.

Last reviewed September 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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