Recently, there has been increased emphasis placed upon appropriate use of screening tests for prostate cancer. Doctors have found that when all men are screened for prostate cancer without any thought about the actual benefit of this screening, some men end up being treated for prostate cancer that may never have caused them any real harm. In fact, one study showed that nearly 1/4 of all men over the age of 85 underwent regular prostate cancer screening despite the almost negligible value of doing so.
Because of the increased emphasis on proper screening, several organizations have issued recommendations on how to decide when to stop screening for prostate cancer.
One prominent organization, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), issued recommendations stating that most men age 75 or older should no longer receive screening for prostate cancer. The rationale for this is that men age 75 or older have a much higher chance of dying from another cause (such as heart disease) than from prostate cancer, given their advanced age.
Additionally, men of this age often do not tolerate the rigors of prostate cancer treatment as well as younger men. If the treatment for prostate cancer in men of this age results in their lives being worse than if they had received no treatment at all, then screening for the disease in the first place makes little sense.
It is important to remember that these are simply recommendations and are not meant to be strictly adhered to. For example, a man who is 75 years old but is still vigorously active and without serious health problems may well benefit from prostate cancer screening and possible subsequent treatment if cancer is found.
As always, the decision about whether to get screened for prostate cancer at an advanced age is an important one to discuss with your doctor.
Drazer MW, Huo D, Schonberg MA, et al. Population-Based Patterns and Predictors of Prostate-Specific Antigen Screening Among Older Men in the United States. J Clin Oncol. 2011 May 1;29(13):1736-43. Epub 2011 Mar 28.
U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Screening Recommendations for Prostate Cancer.