Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Font Size

PSA Screening Controversy: FAQ

What the USPSTF Prostate Cancer Screening Recommendations Mean for Men

What is the benefit of PSA screening?

Advanced prostate cancer is a terrible disease. Every year, some 30,000 U.S. men die of prostate cancer.

The obvious benefit of PSA screening is that it can detect prostate cancer in its early, curable stages.

For the PSA test to save one man's life from prostate cancer, 1,000 men must be screened.

What is the harm of PSA screening?

The PSA test itself is done on blood taken during a routine physical exam, at very little risk to a patient.

Men with suspicious PSA levels may go on to have a prostate biopsy. This is done with a needle; usually about a dozen small "cores" are taken. It's unpleasant, but usually uneventful. Even so, about 70 out of 10,000 biopsies result in infection, bleeding, or urinary difficulties.

Men found to have prostate cancer -- about 25% to 35% of men biopsied -- have a number of options.

One is to closely watch the cancer to see if it gets worse. In this case, the harm is anxiety and possibly waiting too long to get treatment.

But in the U.S., most men opt for one of the various effective treatments for prostate cancer. These treatments are very effective at curing the cancer. But they have a high rate of side effects. Men sometimes are left impotent and/or incontinent.

For every 1,000 men who undergo PSA screening, one will develop a blood clot in his legs or lungs due to treatment, two have heart attacks due to treatment, and up to 40 suffer impotence or incontinence.

After comparing those harms to the benefit of saving one life, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force calculated that the harms of PSA screening outweigh the benefits.

Isn't it better to find and treat prostate cancer early?

Once prostate cancer is detected, doctors try their best to determine whether the cancer is dangerous. But the truth is in many cases, nobody knows for sure.

Here's what some of the experts say:

Susan G. Fisher, PhD, professor and chair of preventive medicine at the University of Rochester, N.Y.: "Right now we do not have an accurate marker to identify people who have prostate cancer that could eventually cause serious problems for them."

Today on WebMD

man with doctor
Symptoms, risks, treatments
man coughing
Men shouldn’t ignore
prostate cancer cells
What does this diagnosis mean?
doctor and male patient
Is it worth it?
cancer fighting foods
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
Prostate Enlarged
Picture Of The Prostate
Prostate Cancer Quiz
screening tests for men
Prostate Cancer Symptoms
Vitamin D