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Prostate Cancer Screening: Know Your Options

December 12, 2022

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men in the United States. Understanding when and why you should get screened for prostate cancer is important because early detection is the key to successful treatment. In this article, we will provide an overview of the prostate cancer screening process and offer advice on when and why you should get screened. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of the screening process for prostate cancer, as well as a better understanding of the types of tests available.


What is a prostate exam?

There are two parts to a full prostate screening: the digital rectal exam (DRE) and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. In recent years, the medical world has emphasized measuring PSA as an effective means to track prostate cancer. Some doctors may only recommend a DRE if there are concerns about PSA test results.


What is the prostate exam procedure?

The two parts of a full prostate cancer screening involve very different procedures. The DRE is a physical prostate inspection, while the PSA test is a simple blood test.


The DRE Procedure

In a digital rectal exam, a doctor inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into the patient’s anus. This prostate exam procedure allows the physician to feel the gland, checking it for abnormal growth or lumps. While this test is helpful, it has the disadvantage that the doctor can only examine one side of the prostate.


The PSA Test

The blood test for prostate-specific antigen is less uncomfortable for the patient. It involves a blood draw that goes to a lab for measurement. When the PSA test is part of an annual exam schedule, doctors can watch for unexpected level changes that might indicate cancer.


Preparing for a Prostate Exam

Neither the PSA test nor a DRE requires any special preparation on the part of the patient. Blood draws are a standard procedure for wellness exams. For the DRE, a patient will want to mention if they have any anal problems, such as hemorrhoids or bleeding. The exam process may aggravate these conditions.


When to Get a Prostate Cancer Screening Exam

Prostate cancer is rare in young men. Patients will not receive a screening until they reach middle age unless there are other symptoms of prostate issues.


Average Risk Prostate Exam Age

Doctors recommend a PSA test beginning at age 45 for men in the average risk group without symptoms. The recommended testing frequency depends on the levels of PSA found. Biannual testing is standard for patients with PSA levels that are less than 2.5 ng/L. Physicians recommend an annual test for patients with higher PSA levels.


Higher Risk Prostate Exam Age

The testing age drops to 40 for people in higher-risk categories. A family history of cancer is an important factor in determining risk, especially if there are prostate, breast, or ovarian cancer cases in a patient’s background. Black men also have a higher frequency of prostate cancer and fall into the high-risk group.


Debates Around Prostate Exams

The decision of when to get a prostate exam may be affected by discussions of the benefits of these tests within the medical community. Cancer of the prostate generally grows slowly. This quality is why most doctors typically do not recommend prostate screening beyond the age of 70 when there are no symptoms.

Although there is a danger of spreading to other organs, many men can live for years with a positive diagnosis but no symptoms or minimal treatment. Some doctors argue that avoiding false positives, unnecessary treatments, and uncomfortable side effects outweighs the benefits of early detection. Some medical professionals suggest that they should reserve prostate exams for high-risk patients.

Choosing when to get a prostate exam is a decision to make with the guidance of your primary healthcare provider. Your doctor can share the latest medical news and offer an informed opinion that supports your long-term health.


Early Detection is Important for Treating Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer screening is essential to men’s health, and our team of cancer care experts is committed to providing the highest quality care and support to all patients. We are dedicated to helping each individual get the screening they need to detect prostate cancer and get the care they need as early as possible.