Prostate cancer is the one of the most treatable cancers in men —as long as it’s detected early. The best way to do that is through regular screening.
But knowing when to start and how often to get it done can be confusing. The recommended schedule for prostate cancer screening has been the subject of intense debate over the last few years. Some expert bodies, such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, have even changed their position on how frequently, and at what ages, men should be tested.
If you or a loved one is a man in your 50s or 60s, get screened. Make sure to repeat the screening every year, as part of your routine annual physical exam or as often as your doctor recommends.
Prostate cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in men. About one in five men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime.
Each year, more than 30,000 American men die from prostate cancer. Early Screening has the potential to save many of those lives.
What is Prostate Cancer Screening?
A key component of preventive medicine, screening involves looking for a disease, like cancer, before a person has any symptoms. If abnormal tissue is found early enough, it is often easier to treat. By the time actual symptoms develop, it can be too late to halt the spread of the disease. At the very least, earlier detection of cancer means easier, less invasive treatment options with a higher chance of success.
The primary aims of prostate cancer screening are early detection, reducing the number of deaths from prostate cancer and catching cancers before they spread to other parts of the body.
Prostate cancer screening is typically conducted by performing two easy and important tests:
• Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test
A simple lab test that measures PSA levels in the blood.
• Digital rectal exam
A physical examination in which a doctor or nurse inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to inspect the prostate for lumps or other suspicious signs.
It is important to note that elevated levels of PSA can also occur from normal growth of the prostate and inflammation or infection of the prostate—and not necessarily from cancer. Furthermore, even an elevated PSA level does not mean that a patient is at risk of dying from prostate cancer.
Most early-detected cases of prostate cancer have a good prognosis, some even without treatment. Some prostate cancer patients go years, decades, or even a lifetime without having to begin therapy.
However, some cases are aggressive—and only regular screenings can help detect these cancers before it’s too late.
It’s important for men to thoroughly discuss test results and their options with their doctors.
Josh M. Randall, MD, is a board-certified urologist at Mission Hospital, part of the St. Joseph Hoag Health network of care.