Prostate Cancer Screening Guidelines

By:    Published: August 9, 2012

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Unlike breast cancer, prostate cancer doesn’t have a high level of awareness about risk, screening and treatment. In fact, prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death in the United States. Men need to learn whether they are at a high risk for the disease by understanding the proper prostate cancer screening guidelines.

What Are My Prostate Cancer Screening Options?

There are two main types of prostate cancer screening:

  1. Digital rectal examination (DRE): The DRE is a quick exam which is performed to check the health of the prostate gland. During the exam, the doctor inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate for irregularities and abnormalities.
  2. Prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing: PSA is a substance produced by prostate gland cells. PSA is released into the blood, so a simple blood draw from the arm can allow doctors to check if a man’s PSA levels are normal. The higher the PSA level, the more likely a prostate problem is occurring. However, high PSA levels don’t necessarily indicate prostate cancer – they can also signal a prostate infection, an enlarged prostate or other prostate issues.

When Should I Get Tested For Prostate Cancer?

Because the DRE and the PSA tests can detect different issues in the prostate, they are usually both performed in order to best screen for prostate cancer. Medical experts who support prostate cancer screening suggest that men begin receiving both tests beginning at the age of 50. The tests should continue annually as long as a man is in good health.

In some cases, doctors may recommend getting prostate cancer screenings before the age of 50. This usually applies only to men who are considered to have a higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Am I Considered "High-Risk?"

There are a few factors that increase the risk of prostate cancer. If any of the following apply to you, you may be at a higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer:

  • Have a father or brother who has had prostate cancer
  • Are African-American

In addition, the following symptoms may signal that prostate cancer is developing (although they may be signs of other conditions involving the prostate):

  • Blood in the urine
  • Inability to urinate
  • Feeling the need to urinate frequently, especially at night
  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • Weak or interrupted urine flow
  • Constant pain the in pelvis, upper thighs or lower back

Men who find that any of the above descriptions apply to them should talk to their doctor about getting prostate cancer screenings earlier than the age of 50. A doctor can help you better understand your risk and give the information to help you decide if early screening tests are right for you.

Why Should I Get Screened For Prostate Cancer?

In general, a man has about a 16 percent chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. The risk of diagnosis increases with age. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the U.S. According to certain studies, the U.S. would have three times as many people diagnosed with advanced-stage prostate cancer if it weren’t for PSA testing. By helping to detect the disease early, prostate cancer screening can increase the possibility of successful treatment for those who are diagnosed.

At this point, there is no firm recommendation since the benefits of prostate cancer screening are not as clear as with some other types of cancer screenings (such as mammograms). For example, if 100 men take the PSA test, about 15 will have higher than normal PSA levels. However, out of those, only about 3 will have prostate cancer. Even so, most health experts agree that prostate cancer screening is helpful in detecting prostate cancer early on in its development. Further studies are being conducted to provide clearer evidence of how prostate cancer screening (specifically the PSA test) reduce the number of prostate cancer deaths.

Where Can I Get Screened For Prostate Cancer?

Your doctor can usually provide prostate cancer screening right in their office. You may need to wait until a lab processes your PSA test to find out about the results. In addition, you can contact local hospitals or health clinics to find out about options for prostate cancer screening tests. The National Cancer Institute also offers free information via their Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.

Bottom Line

There have been some drawbacks associated with PSA testing. The biopsy needed to confirm a diagnosis from this type of testing may have side effects, and if a man undergoes prostate cancer treatment he may suffer from urinary leakage and sexual dysfunction. However, many doctors argue that the benefits far outweigh the risk since undetected prostate cancer will likely lead to death. Talk to your doctor about the possible risks and side effects of prostate cancer screening before your make a decision.

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