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Prostate Cancer Screening

Volume 489: debated on Thursday 19 March 2009

We are committed to having a prostate cancer screening programme if and when screening and treatment techniques are sufficiently well developed. Major findings on screening for prostate cancer were published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on 18 March 2009.

The NEJM reports on two studies. The European trial (the European randomized study on screening for prostate cancer) started in 1993 and reports on 162,000 men from eight countries. It shows that the risk of dying from prostate cancer is reduced amongst those screened by around 20 per cent.. However, around 48 men have to be treated for prostate cancer to avoid one death.

The other research trial (the prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening trial - PLCO) comes from the United Sates of America. This involves around 75,000 men and shows no benefit from screening.

The United Kingdom National Screening Committee (UKNSC) regularly reviews its policy decisions in the light of new evidence. As a result of the new reports, we will formally ask the UKNSC to review the evidence on prostate cancer screening and make recommendations. We look forward to examining this new evidence.

The prostate cancer risk management programme (PCRMP) is in place to ensure that men without symptoms of prostate cancer can have a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test free on the National Health Service provided they have made an informed choice about the advantages and disadvantages of the test. Any man contemplating having a PSA test or with symptoms of prostate cancer should speak to his general practitioner who will be able to counsel him and provide him with evidence-based support materials.

The chief medical officer has sent an alert to all general practitioners in England to inform them of the new research findings, providing them with a link to the PCRMP materials to assist them in discussing the issues with their patients.