Getting Screened for Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in men (lung cancer is the first). Often, men who develop prostate cancer won’t experience symptoms until the cancer is advanced, which makes it important for those at risk to get screened. If diagnosed early, treatment can be very effective.

Talk to your physician about prostate screenings

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What is a prostate and what does it do?

Your prostate is a small gland about the size of a walnut (depending on your age — it tends to get larger as you get older). It is a part of the reproductive system and helps produce some of the fluid in semen. It rests below the bladder and in front of the rectum.

Who should get screened?

Men 45 and older should consider getting screened for prostate cancer. Follow the guidelines below to determine if you should be screened:

Age 45: First, discuss screening risks and benefits with your doctor. If you choose to be screened, get a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. A digital rectal exam is also recommended.
Age 46-75: Continue testing as indicated by your previous test results.
Age 75-85: Your doctor can help you decide if you should continue screening for prostate cancer.
Age 85 and older: Screening is not recommended for men age 85 or older.

What to expect at a prostate screening

A prostate screening typically consists of two components:

  1. A digital rectal exam
  2. A blood test

Digital rectal exam – A digital rectal exam is a relatively simple exam to check the prostate. The prostate is an internal organ that your doctor cannot look at directly. The prostate lies in front of the rectum, so your doctor can feel it by inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum. While this is uncomfortable, it isn’t painful and takes just a few seconds.

A blood test – Some blood will be drawn from a vein in your arm and sent to the lab to check your levels of PSA. PSA stands for prostate specific antigen.

The Screening Results

If your PSA levels are higher than normal, this could indicate the presence of prostate cancer. However, there are other things that can elevate PSA levels, so don’t panic if yours is above normal. Other noncancerous prostate conditions, certain medications and some medical procedures can raise your PSA. If these reasons are not the reason for your abnormal PSA levels, your doctor will likely order a biopsy, in which a tiny amount of tissue is removed from the prostate and examined.