To screen or not to screen, when clinical guidelines disagree: primary care physicians' use of the PSA test

Prev Med. 2004 Feb;38(2):182-91. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2003.09.035.


Background: Clinical guidelines for using the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test as a population-based screening tool vary considerably. This study qualitatively explored primary care physicians' PSA screening practices and their understanding of the PSA screening controversy.

Methods: Fourteen telephone focus groups were conducted with 75 primary care physicians practicing in 35 US states. Data were coded around three major topics: PSA screening practices, factors influencing these practices, and familiarity with clinical guidelines.

Results: Two practice patterns emerged. Most participants recommended regular PSA screening beginning around age 50 for asymptomatic men with no known risk factors and at least a 10-year life expectancy. These "routine screeners" attributed their approach to experience that supported the benefit of PSA screening and to patient demand for the test. Other physicians discussed the implications of PSA screening with patients before offering the test, but neither recommended for or against it. The approach of these "nonroutine screeners" was primarily guided by the lack of scientific evidence documenting the benefit of PSA screening.

Conclusions: The observed practice patterns reflect both sides of the PSA screening controversy. While routine and nonroutine screeners differ in their approach, both reported high rates of PSA screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Guideline Adherence*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / blood*
  • United States


  • Prostate-Specific Antigen