Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and the Eastern Health and Social Services Board discovered that more than two-thirds of doctors (65 per cent) said that they provided PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) tests on request.

They did this despite the fact that the UK National Health Service Executive and the UK’s National Screening Committee don’t recommend routine screening for prostate cancer, in the absence of symptoms, using PSA blood tests.

“Increased on-demand PSA testing represents a major pressure on family doctors and has serious implications for prostate cancer investigation and treatment” says co-author Dr Jackie McCall, Specialist Registrar in Public Health Medicine at the Eastern Health and Social Services Board. “Clinical evidence suggests that PSA testing may not improve survival or quality of life and might cause more harm than good, to patients and services alike."

The team surveyed family doctor practices in Northern Ireland and matched their responses with a regional PSA testing database. A detailed analysis of the results revealed that there were a range of complex factors that influenced whether family doctors carried out PSA screening. These included:

•49 per cent of doctors were aware of the national guidelines for PSA testing, but that awareness did not influence testing levels.

•Tests were more likely to be ordered by full-time male doctors who had been practising for 21 to 30 years and by those who worked in rural practices.

•Opportunistic PSA testing is being carried out on men who consult their family doctor about unrelated complaints. 47 per cent of doctors reported that PSA testing had previously picked up prostate cancer in patients with no symptoms and 51 per cent said this influenced their practice.; Source: Blackwell Publishing