Prostate-Specific Antigen-Based Screening for Prostate Cancer: Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force

JAMA. 2018 May 8;319(18):1914-1931. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.3712.


Importance: Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among US men.

Objective: To systematically review evidence on prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-based prostate cancer screening, treatments for localized prostate cancer, and prebiopsy risk calculators to inform the US Preventive Services Task Force.

Data sources: Searches of PubMed, EMBASE, Web of Science, and Cochrane Registries and Databases from July 1, 2011, through July 15, 2017, with a surveillance search on February 1, 2018.

Study selection: English-language reports of randomized clinical trials (RCTs) of screening; cohort studies reporting harms; RCTs and cohort studies of active localized cancer treatments vs conservative approaches (eg, active surveillance, watchful waiting); external validations of prebiopsy risk calculators to identify aggressive cancers.

Data extraction and synthesis: One investigator abstracted data; a second checked accuracy. Two investigators independently rated study quality.

Main outcomes and measures: Prostate cancer and all-cause mortality; false-positive screening results, biopsy complications, overdiagnosis; adverse effects of active treatments. Random-effects meta-analyses were conducted for treatment harms.

Results: Sixty-three studies in 104 publications were included (N = 1 904 950). Randomization to PSA screening was not associated with reduced risk of prostate cancer mortality in either a US trial with substantial control group contamination (n = 76 683) or a UK trial with low adherence to a single PSA screen (n = 408 825) but was associated with significantly reduced prostate cancer mortality in a European trial (n = 162 243; relative risk [RR], 0.79 [95% CI, 0.69-0.91]; absolute risk reduction, 1.1 deaths per 10 000 person-years [95% CI, 0.5-1.8]). Of 61 604 men screened in the European trial, 17.8% received false-positive results. In 3 cohorts (n = 15 136), complications requiring hospitalization occurred in 0.5% to 1.6% of men undergoing biopsy after abnormal screening findings. Overdiagnosis was estimated to occur in 20.7% to 50.4% of screen-detected cancers. In an RCT of men with screen-detected prostate cancer (n = 1643), neither radical prostatectomy (hazard ratio [HR], 0.63 [95% CI, 0.21-1.93]) nor radiation therapy (HR, 0.51 [95% CI, 0.15-1.69]) were associated with significantly reduced prostate cancer mortality vs active monitoring, although each was associated with significantly lower risk of metastatic disease. Relative to conservative management, radical prostatectomy was associated with increased risk of urinary incontinence (pooled RR, 2.27 [95% CI, 1.82-2.84]; 3 trials; n = 1796) and erectile dysfunction (pooled RR, 1.82 [95% CI, 1.62-2.04]; 2 trials; n = 883). Relative to conservative management (8 cohort studies; n = 3066), radiation therapy was associated with increased risk of erectile dysfunction (pooled RR, 1.31 [95% CI, 1.20-1.42]).

Conclusions and relevance: PSA screening may reduce prostate cancer mortality risk but is associated with false-positive results, biopsy complications, and overdiagnosis. Compared with conservative approaches, active treatments for screen-detected prostate cancer have unclear effects on long-term survival but are associated with sexual and urinary difficulties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Biopsy / adverse effects
  • Early Detection of Cancer* / methods
  • Early Detection of Cancer* / standards
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Overuse
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / blood*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / mortality
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / therapy
  • Risk Factors
  • Watchful Waiting


  • Prostate-Specific Antigen