The Prostate Cancer Foundation says many men could get a second chance at life after an inquiry into the early detection and treatment of the disease recommended major changes to the advice doctors give their patients.
About 3000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed and about 560 men die of the disease every year.
A parliamentary health select committee report, released today, recommended against establishing a national screening programme, but said men should be encouraged to make informed choices.
The committee's inquiry focused on recent international trials that compared the health outcomes for men who were screened for prostate cancer with those who were not, with varying results.
Committee chairman Paul Hutchison said there had been vigorous debate about the benefits of early detection and treatment, and the committee was seeking "major changes".
It recommended GPs be encouraged to give men information about the advantages and disadvantages of screening and treatment from the age of 45, or 10 years earlier for men with known risk factors.
That contrasted with the recommendations of the National Health Committee in 2004 not to screen men for prostate cancer, regardless of their age, because the risks of screening and treatment outweighed the benefits.
Dr Hutchison said that advice had led to confusion about the actions men should take, with some doctors failing to inform men or dissuading them from being tested.
About 40 per cent of men over 50 years of age undergo a PSA test.
The committee said there was a strong case for establishing a quality improvement programme within one year, to address inequalities in the early detection and treatment of prostate cancer.
It recommended that men be encouraged to seek up-to-date, evidence-based information about prostate cancer testing and treatment from their GPs.
It also recommended GPs advise men with a strong family history of prostate cancer that they could choose to have their full history noted before undergoing a clinical examination, PSA testing and rectal exams from the age of 40.
Prostate Cancer Foundation chief executive Keith Beck said many men could get "a second chance at life" as a result of the recommendations, which would bring prostate cancer detection and treatment in line with those of breast and cervical cancer.
The foundation anticipated that as more international studies were undertaken and improved testing methods became available, the Government would support prostate cancer testing even more strongly, and eventually recognise the benefits of a national screening programme, he said.
University of Otago pathologist Brett Delahunt, who is medical adviser to the foundation, said he was delighted with the committee's recommendation that men should seek an informed choice.
"This is a serious disease which has been not treated seriously enough by people for some time, and I think this really does give it the importance it deserves, when you consider the death rate is equal to that of breast cancer," he told NZPA.
International studies had shown that testing really did save lives and the report was a step in the right direction.
"It shows it's a good process, it works and I think it's a good result for New Zealand men," Prof Delahunt said.
But a national screening programme was not appropriate at this stage, he said.
"I think we're getting there ... but to go for a full national screening programme I think is premature. I think that every urologist and pathologist in New Zealand would agree with me," Prof Delahunt said.