Objective: To assess the rate of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing for prostate cancer in general practice in asymptomatic and symptomatic patients.
Subjects and methods: The cross-sectional study took place in England and Wales, was population-based and covered 469 159 men aged 45-84 years. Pathology data on PSA tests requested between 19 November 1999 and 31 May 2002 by general practitioners (GPs) were provided by 28 pathology laboratories. The practices recorded reasons for the tests between 1 December 2001 and 31 May 2002. In all, 391 practices in which all GP partners participated were included in the analyses.
Results: The overall annual rate of testing in men with no previous diagnosis of prostate cancer was estimated to be 6%, of which the annual rates of asymptomatic, symptomatic and re-testing were 2.0%, 2.8% and 1.2%, respectively, after adjusting for missing values. The rate decreased with increasing social deprivation, and with increasing proportions of black and Asian populations. The overall rate of PSA testing increased significantly from 1999 to 2002.
Conclusions: If the recommendations of the National Health Service Prostate Cancer Risk Management Programme were applied, 14% of asymptomatic tests and 23% of symptomatic tests would have led to a referral. As the rate of PSA testing is increasing and there are uncertainties about the benefit of screening, the workload and costs in general practice and hospitals should be monitored.