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What are the benefits, risks, and limitations of PSA screening?
John Wiskowski avatar
Written by John Wiskowski
Updated over a week ago

Benefits, risks, and limitations of prostate cancer screening

The prostate specific antigen (PSA) test measures a protein that is produced by normal prostate tissue, but also by cancerous tissue in the prostate, which is a gland at the base of the penis. When deciding whether or not to move forward with prostate cancer screening, it’s important to know the benefits and limitations of PSA testing, as well as harms that may come from treatment.

On average, 1 in 8 people with a prostate will get prostate cancer. But some are at higher risk, including Black men and men with a close relative who had the disease.

Here's some information to help you decide whether prostate cancer screening is right for you. You can also choose to discuss this with a healthcare provider.


  • PSA screening may help to detect prostate cancer early. Prostate cancer is typically easier to treat and monitor before it spreads to other parts of the body.

  • Some people prefer to have more information about their health.

  • Knowing your PSA level may help to make an informed decision about diagnostic tests and treatments.


  • PSA levels can be higher or lower for reasons other than cancer. False positive tests can cause anxiety and distress.

  • PSA testing can provide an indication that you may have prostate cancer, but additional tests will be necessary to diagnose prostate cancer.

  • PSA testing cannot provide information about the aggressiveness of prostate cancer.

  • A high PSA level may result in additional testing and follow-up, such as a biopsy, which can be harmful.


  • Prostate cancer usually progresses slowly and may never cause symptoms within a person's lifetime. Many people who develop prostate cancer will not require treatment because their cancer is not life threatening.

  • Knowing you have prostate cancer, but are not recommended to have immediate treatment, could cause anxiety and distress.

  • Treatment of prostate cancer may result in significant side-effects, such as incontinence and impotence.

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