Do All guys need a PSA test

Actor Ben Stiller is crediting a prostate cancer screening test for saving his life, revealing today that he was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer two years ago. But should all men get this screening test?

In an interview today (Oct. 4) on The Howard Stern Show, Stiller revealed for the first time that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 48. The actor, who is now 50, said doctors detected the cancer because Stiller had undergone a prostate-specific antigen test, or PSA test, which looks for levels of the protein PSA in the blood. Abnormally high levels of PSA in the blood can mean that a man has prostate cancer, but not always. In Stiller’s case, a follow-up MRI and biopsy showed he had prostate cancer.

“This thing saved my life,” Stiller said of the PSA test.

The PSA test is the main test used to screen for prostate cancer, but it is controversial. In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, or USPSTF (an expert panel that advises the federal government) recommended that men not undergo routine screening for prostate cancer with the PSA test, no matter their age.

The American Cancer Society recommends that men have a discussion with their doctor about whether to start PSA screening at age 50 if they are at average risk for prostate cancer, and at age 40 to 45 if they have a family history of prostate cancer.

The main issue with prostate cancer screening is that, although the PSA test can help detect prostate cancer early, it’s not clear if the test’s benefits outweigh its risks in the long run for most men.

One problem with the PSA test is that it often suggests that men have prostate cancer when they do not have cancer, according to the USPSTF. About 75 percent of men with abnormally high levels of PSA do not have cancer. These so-called false positive results can lead to anxiety and unnecessary follow-up tests, the USPSTF says.

The PSA test doesn’t always detect cancer, either — about 20 percent of men with prostate cancer have normal PSA levels, so the test may give these men a false sense of security, according to Harvard Medical School.

What’s more, even when true prostate cancer is detected, doctors cannot tell for sure whether the prostate cancer poses an actual threat to a man’s health.

In many cases, prostate cancer does not grow or cause symptoms, or it grows so slowly that it would never have caused problems in a patient’s lifetime, according to the USPSTF.

“Because of an elevated PSA level, some men may be diagnosed with a prostate cancer that they would have never even known about at all. It would never have led to their death, or even caused any symptoms,” the American Cancer Society says.

This means that some men with prostate cancer get treatment that they don’t need. And the treatments for prostate cancer, such as surgery and radiation, are not benign. They can lead to erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence and problems with bowel control.