The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which issues recommendations on medical testing and treatment, said in 2008 men age 75 and older should not receive the prostate specific antigen test, which measures blood levels of a protein secreted by the prostate gland.
Elevated levels in younger men are usually a sign a biopsy needs to be performed to detect cancer but most prostate cancers are slow growing and 80 percent of men age 80 and older are not apparently harmed by the cancer and will most likely of some other cause, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The task force said "there is moderate or high certainty the service has no net benefit or that the harm outweighs the benefits." Side effects from treatment of a prostate tumor can include incontinence, impotence, rectal bleeding and many other complications.
Nonetheless, last year Dr. Scott E. Eggener of the University of Chicago Medical Center, found many older men getting unnecessary PSA screening.
Eggener and colleagues used data from the 2005 and 2010 National Health Interview Surveys and found in 2005, before the recommendations, 43 percent of men age 75 and older received the PSA test. In 2010, two years after the guidelines were released, the percentage had grown to 43.9 percent.
In both years, the researchers excluded men who had a test because of a specific prostate complaint, restricting it only to those who received the test as part of routine screening. Only 12.5 percent of men in their 40s and 33.2 percent of men in their 50s -- both groups that could benefit from early diagnosis and treatment -- received the test.