Open Access Research article

Factors prompting PSA-testing of asymptomatic men in a country with no guidelines: a national survey of general practitioners

Frances J Drummond*, Anne-Elie Carsin, Linda Sharp and Harry Comber

Author Affiliations

National Cancer Registry, Ireland, Building 6800, Airport Business Park, Kinsale Rd, Cork, Ireland

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BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:3  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-3

Published: 12 January 2009

Abstract

Background

Increased use of prostate specific antigen (PSA) has been associated with increased prostate cancer incidence. Ireland is estimated to have one of the highest prostate cancer incidences in Europe and has no national guidelines for prostate cancer screening. GPs have a pivotal role in influencing PSA testing, therefore, our aim was to describe GP testing practices and to identify factors influencing these.

Methods

A postal survey, including questions on clinical practice and experience, knowledge and demographics was distributed to all GPs (n = 3,683). The main outcomes were (i) PSA testing asymptomatic men and (ii) "inappropriate" PSA testing, defined as testing asymptomatic men aged < 50 or > 75 years. Factors associated with these outcomes were identified using logistic regression.

Results

1,625 GPs responded (response rate corrected for eligibility = 53%). Most respondents (79%) would PSA test asymptomatic men. Of these, 34% and 51% would test asymptomatic men < 50 and > 75 years, respectively. In multivariate analyses, GPs were more likely to test asymptomatic men if they were ≥ 50 years, in practice ≥ 10 years, female or less knowledgeable about PSA efficacy. Male GPs who would have a PSA test themselves were > 8-times more likely to PSA test asymptomatic men than GPs who would not have a test. GPs who had an asymptomatic patient diagnosed with prostate cancer following PSA testing, were > 3-times more likely to test asymptomatic men. Practice-related factors positively associated with testing included: running 'well man' clinics, performing occupational health checks and performing other tests routinely with PSA. Factors positively associated with 'inappropriate' testing included; being male and willing to have a PSA test, having worked/trained in the UK and supporting annual PSA testing. 91% of respondents supported the development of national PSA testing guidelines.

Conclusion

Our findings suggest that widespread PSA testing of asymptomatic men in primary care is primarily due to a combination of clinical experience, poor knowledge and the support of doctors for PSA testing, as evidenced by the willingness of male doctors to have a PSA test. There is an urgent need for education and support for GPs concerning prostate cancer screening, starting with the implementation of national guidelines.