When Should You Get a Prostate Cancer Screening?

Categories: Prostate Cancer

July 17, 2017

Are you interested in learning about prostate cancer screening? It's important to remember that many perfectly healthy people are screened for prostate cancer as part of their regular health care. Doctors sometimes recommend testing simply because of your age or family history. Other times, patients have some symptoms, and their doctor may suggest a prostate cancer screening as the first step to understanding the problem.

Early Detection of Prostate Cancer Changes Outcomes for Patients!

No Symptoms or Family History

Prostate cancer treatment has a much higher success rate when it's found at an early stage. This is why prostate cancer screenings are often done on patients who have no symptoms or immediate family history of prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends screening for men over the age of 50 who have no unusual risk factors.

Family History

Between five and ten percent of prostate cancers are hereditary. If your father or brother has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, that increases your risk of developing the disease. There is no genetic testing available to screen for prostate cancer risk, but your doctor may suggest a PSA test if the disease exists in your immediate family. The ACS suggests screening for men over 45 years old if they have one family member who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at a relatively young age (under 65 years old). Men with two or more family members who developed prostate cancer should be screened once they reach the age of 40. Also, African American men have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer, and the ACS recommends that they be screened beginning at the age of 45.

Symptoms are Present

Sometimes men experience symptoms associated with prostate cancer, but those same symptoms can also occur in non-cancer-related conditions such as an enlarged prostate ("BPH"). When a patient visits their general practitioner or urologist with concerns, a prostate cancer screening is a very common part of the diagnosis process -- even if the diagnosis isn't cancer.

Types of Prostate Cancer Screenings

There are several methods of screening for prostate cancer, and your doctor may choose one or more of them:

  • Digital rectal exam (DRE): This test doesn't involve any special equipment or devices. The practitioner simply inserts a gloved finger into your rectum and determines whether your prostate feels enlarged or unusual in any way. This method can also indicate growths in your prostate gland or rectum, as well as the presence of hemorrhoids. However, not all prostate problems can be detected with this manual examination.
  • Prostate-specific antigen test (PSA): This is a blood test. A small sample of blood is taken, usually from your arm, and then a lab will test the blood for PSA. An abnormal amount of PSA does not automatically mean that you have cancer, however, because ordinary prostate enlargement or infection can also affect your test results. A normal PSA test result is 0 to 4 ng/ml, a slightly elevated PSA level is 4 to 10 ng/ml, a moderately elevated level is 10 to 20 ng/ml, and a highly elevated level is over 20 ng/ml.

To learn more about prostate cancer testing and diagnosing, visit Compass Oncology's prostate cancer disease information page.

What Happens If Your Prostate Screening Results Are Not Normal?

If your screening test shows that you might have a problem with your prostate, then the doctor will want you to have some further testing. It's important to find out whether your abnormal screening results were just a mistake (a "false positive"), the result of a non-cancerous condition, or if you actually do have prostate cancer. There are several ways for prostate cancer specialists to get a clearer idea of what's happening with your body:

  • Ultrasound: This method uses sound waves to produce an image of your prostate. The test involves inserting a small probe into the rectum, which generates these sound waves and then transmits the information to a screen. Ultrasound is a safe method that does not involve any radiation.
  • Biopsy: The doctor will use some type of real-time imaging, such as ultrasound (above) or an MRI or CT scan, to make your prostate area easy to see. You will then receive a local anesthetic (numbing medicine) to help you be more comfortable during the biopsy. The doctor inserts a thin, spring-loaded needle into your prostate and uses it to remove a tiny sample of your prostate tissue. This tissue is then analyzed by pathologists to see whether any cancer cells are present.
    After a biopsy, you will need to take it easy for a day or two, and you may also be given an antibiotic. You may experience some discomfort right afterwards, and you might see a trace of blood when you urinate or have intercourse.

To learn more about prostate cancer screenings, ask your doctor for a referral to your local prostate cancer specialists. If you are located in or around the Portland, OR or Vancouver, WA areas and would like to make an appointment with one of our prostate cancer specialists please contact us for an appointment. With six cancer treatment centers located throughout Portland and Vancouver, you'll find advanced and personalized treatment, expert guidance from 39 specially trained and board-certified oncologists, and leading-edge cancer research options.