September 6, 2018

Is Prostate Cancer Screening Right for You?

General Health

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men after skin cancer. Although prostate cancer can be serious, it is often treatable — especially when it is found early. The problem is that some men who have prostate cancer do not recognize the symptoms — or do not have any symptoms at all — until the cancer is advanced and has spread to other areas of their body, making it more difficult to treat.

Prostate cancer screening can detect signs of prostate cancer before symptoms develop, which can increase your chances of survival. But, like other cancer screening tests, prostate cancer screening has benefits and risks that you should discuss with your healthcare provider.

Here’s what you need to know about prostate cancer screening:

Recommendations state that prostate cancer screening should be an individual decision.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men who are between the ages of 55 and 69 should make individual decisions about prostate cancer screening after discussing the risks and benefits with their healthcare provider. According to the recommendations, men older than age 70 should not be routinely screened for prostate cancer. However, your doctor may recommend prostate cancer screening if you are at high risk of developing the condition.

There are two types of screenings you can get to check your prostate:

  • Digital rectal exam (DRE): A doctor or nurse inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to estimate the side of the prostate and feel for lumps or other abnormalities.
  • Prostate specific antigen (PSA) test: Measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a protein that is made by prostate cells. The levels of PSA in the blood can be higher in men who have prostate cancer. The PSA level may also be elevated in other conditions that affect the prostate

Other prostate conditions affect PSA levels, too.

Although prostate cancer can cause your PSA levels to rise, noncancerous prostate conditions also can affect PSA levels. Noncancerous prostate conditions that may cause PSA levels to rise include benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), also called enlarged prostate, and prostatitis, which is a prostate infection. PSA levels also may increase with age, or as a result of certain medications or medical procedures.

If your PSA level is high, you may need more tests.

If your PSA level is high, your healthcare provider may recommend a biopsy of your prostate to find out if you have prostate cancer. If the results of your biopsy show that you do not have prostate cancer, it is called a “false-positive” result. A false-positive result can lead to unnecessary tests and expose you to a risk of complications related to a prostate biopsy.

Men should begin regular screening for prostate cancer at age 50. Men with a relative who has had prostate cancer may need to start screening at age 40. Once prostate cancer has been diagnosed, treatment depends on a number of factors—not only whether the cancer has spread, but also the man’s age, health, expected life span and level of concern about possible side effects.

You should talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening. Your primary care provider can help you decide if prostate cancer screening will be beneficial for you.