Three times as many men would end up with advanced prostate cancer if a controversial blood test widely criticised for unreliable diagnoses did not exist, a study suggests.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is commonly used in Britain and other countries to identify men at risk of prostate cancer. But critics argue that it frequently results in aggressive treatments which carry a risk of serious side-effects, even though the cancer may be benign and harmless.
Concerns about the accuracy of the PSA test have led to it being used on a case-by-case basis, usually involving men who have already complained of symptoms, rather than as a general screening.
The study, published in the online journal Cancer, analysed the incidence of advanced prostate cancer in the early 1980s, before the PSA test was introduced. It found that the test has resulted in a significant improvement in the early detection of cancers that would otherwise spread to other parts of the body.
The scientists said that doing away with the PSA test would likely result in three times as many men than at present developing an advanced stage of the disease, which spreads beyond the prostate before being diagnosed.