A one-off test for prostate cancer at 60 could save thousands of lives every year, scientists claim.
The screening would identify those at most at risk who could then be closely monitored to ensure the disease was caught early.
Researchers found that 60-year-old men with high levels of a protein known as a prostate specific antigen (PSA) in their blood were much more likely to die from prostate cancer by the time they were 85.
The disease is one of the commonest forms of cancer in men. There are around 35,000 new cases in Britain every year and it claims 10,000 lives
But experts say many deaths could be prevented if the illness was spotted earlier and treatment given before the tumours had the chance to grow.
However, PSA levels can be raised naturally, or could represent a slow-growing tumour which offers no threat to the patient in their lifetime.
This can mean that men who would never become ill from prostate cancer undergo distressing further investigations, or even potentially damaging radiotherapy or surgery.
One piece of research published in the journal appears to confirm this, finding that routine prostate cancer screening did not greatly reduce deaths from the disease, while boosting the risk of “over-treatment”.
However, the second study, led by Professor Hans Lilja from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Medical Center in New York, offers an alternative approach.
They carried out a single test on all 60-year-old men, and split them into two groups depending on PSA levels.
They found that nine out of 10 prostate cancer deaths occurred in the men with the highest levels, while those with average or low levels had negligible rates of disease or death.
This would mean that more than half of men could be told at that point that, even if they had a prostate tumour, it was unlikely to ever threaten their life or make them ill.
The other group could then continue to be screened regularly.