Publication Details

Jones, S. (2001). Screening for prostate cancer: A consideration of screening factors in comparison to screening for breast cancer. Cancer Forum, 25 (2), 115-120.


Cancer is a leading cause of death in developed countries; 27 per cent of all Australian deaths are due to cancer, with 35,000 people dying annually. Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer amongst men in most Western countries. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women aged over 30 years, and causes the highest proportion of cancer deaths in women. At present in Australia there is a debate about the public health value of screening for prostate cancer. This paper examines the issues that must be weighed up in reaching a conclusion to this debate, by comparing the issues in prostate cancer screening to those of screening for breast cancer in women. Unlike breast cancer, there is no clear consensus among experts as to whether prostate cancer screening should be provided on a population basis. Many of these experts have developed recommendations which state, in part, that all the information should be presented to the patient by the physician and that the patient should make the final decision. However, if the experts cannot decide, this leaves the layman in a rather difficult position in making an informed decision. At present, there is insufficient evidence to conclusively determine the value of prostate cancer screening on population basis. Health promotion practitioners are often responsible for educating and advising men as to the necessity for cancer screening. We need to be aware that, at this point in time, there is insufficient evidence to justify prostate cancer screening. Until further research has been undertaken to better understand the natural history of prostate cancer, improved diagnostic procedures have been developed, risk and protective factors have been determined, and treatment for prostate cancer conclusively shown to extend life-expectancy, we should be not be advising men to undergo prostate cancer screening, with the possible exception of individuals who are at a high-risk of developing the disease. Some experts describe screening for prostate cancer, while waiting for (trial) results, as rational, appropriate, economical, and ethical, while other authorities describe screening without better evidence of effectiveness as unconscionable, costly, self-serving, and unethical.