No doubt, spotting cancer early saves lives. And prostate screening is a vital tool to help catch prostate cancer early.
But "when" you get screened and "how often" are important questions to ask your doctor. The answers might not be the same for everyone.
First, what is prostate cancer?
The prostate gland, part of the male reproductive system, is about the size of a walnut and located just below the bladder in front of the rectum. Cancer develops when cells within the prostate grow out of control.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men other than skin cancer. About one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime.
Prostate cancer is more likely to develop in older men and non-Hispanic Black men. It's rare in men under 40.
Does screening for prostate cancer make sense for you?
Since prostate cancer can be detected early—even before you have symptoms—we encourage you to talk with your doctor about screening tests and whether they are right for you.
It may seem like common sense to find and treat every case of prostate cancer early. But some prostate cancer grows very slowly. In fact, it grows so slowly that it may never cause problems during your lifetime.
If you get treatment for prostate cancer, you may undergo surgery or radiation for a cancer that would have never caused you any problems.
Still, for certain men, with certain risk factors, it's wise to have routine prostate cancer screenings—and to pursue treatment.
Your doctor will recommend screening based on your:
- Risk factors
- Family history
You can see why a conversation with your doctor is so important to help you sort through these issues and consider what's right for you.
At what age should you consider a prostate cancer screening?
The American Cancer Society recommends that you talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of prostate screenings at the following ages:
- Age 50—If you are at average risk of prostate cancer and expected to live at least ten more years (in good health with no known life-limiting conditions).
- Age 45—If you are at high risk of developing prostate cancer. You are in the high-risk group if you are African American or if you have a first-degree relative (father, brother or son) who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (before 65).
- Age 40—If you are at an even higher risk. You are at higher risk if you have more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age.
How do I get screened for prostate cancer?
We offer two main types of prostate cancer screening tests.
One is called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. PSA is a protein made by cells in the prostate gland, and it measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen in your blood.
If you're a healthy man, you have low amounts of PSA in your blood. A PSA count that is higher than typical might indicate infection, enlarged prostate, inflammation or cancer. Be aware that it's normal for the amount of PSA in the blood to increase as a man grows older and his prostate enlarges.
Another prostate screening test is called the digital rectal exam (DRE). In the DRE, the doctor checks the prostate with a gloved finger, feeling for bumps, hard areas or abnormalities that might indicate cancer. The doctor can also detect an enlarged prostate and issues with other internal structures nearby. This exam is a little uncomfortable, but it's simple and quick.
If you decide to get the PSA test for prostate screening, how often should you retest?
If you decide to get screened for prostate cancer, check with your doctor about the frequency of follow-up tests. The time between future screenings depends on the results of your PSA blood test:
- If your PSA level is less than 2.5 ng/mL, your doctor may suggest retesting every two years.
- If your PSA level is 2.5 ng/mL or higher, your doctor may recommend annual prostate screening.
The bottom line: It's important to find out if prostate cancer screening is right for you. Talk to your primary care provider about your risk factors and whether you should get tested for earlier detection.
Need help finding a primary care provider? Click here to find a doctor near you or give us a call at 513-585-3000.