July 23, 2019

How Does Prostate Cancer Screening Work?

prostate screening

The prostate gland sits below a man’s bladder and produces fluid for semen. In some men, cancer can develop in this gland. How can prostate cancer be detected early? While there’s no definitive test for prostate cancer, there are prostate cancer screenings that help a doctor determine if cancer may be present, in which case more testing is done.

One screening is a blood test that looks for elevated levels of what’s called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The other common prostate cancer test is called the digital rectal exam (DRE). With this prostate cancer check, the doctor or nurse uses a gloved finger inserted into the rectum to check the prostate for anything unusual in its size or shape, such as lumps.

What is a PSA Prostate Cancer Test?

In terms of how to check for prostate cancer, the PSA test is often recommended. When attempting to assess your risk of prostate cancer, PSA levels can provide valuable information to your doctor. This blood test looks for an elevated level, since PSA can be higher in men who have prostate cancer.

However, PSA levels can also be affected by other factors, including:

  • An enlarged prostate
  • Certain medications
  • A prostate infection
  • Certain medical procedures

How quickly your PSA level is changing is also an important consideration. Consequently, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your test results and what they may indicate.

When to Get a Prostate Cancer Screening

Prostate cancer screening can result in earlier detection of cancer, so it’s important to know when to get checked. Typically, doctors recommend that men consider regular screening once they reach the age of 50. African American men, and men who have a family history of prostate cancer, may be advised to start screening sooner.

Generally speaking, it’s no longer necessary to have prostate cancer screening tests after the age of 70. This type of cancer typically grows slowly, so it’s unlikely to affect a man’s life expectancy if discovered after that point. Prostate cancer checks are then discontinued.

Pros and Cons of Prostate Cancer Screening Tests

Prostate cancer screening has both pros and cons. It’s important to discuss these considerations with your doctor. Some of the pros include:

  • All that’s required is a simple blood test and/or quick rectal exam.
  • Prostate cancer screening tests can lead to early detection of cancer.
  • Finding cancer early can improve your outcome if you choose to have treatment.
  • It can be reassuring if testing shows no indication of cancer.

Some of the reasons you may choose not to have a prostate cancer check include:

  • Prostate cancer tends to be a slow-growing disease and may not spread beyond the prostate.
  • PSA testing isn’t foolproof. False positives and negatives are possible.
  • Not all prostate cancers require treatment, and treatment comes with the risk of side effects including urinary incontinence, bowel problems, and erectile dysfunction.
  • Depending on your age and other factors, a test result that shows signs of cancer can lead to a difficult decision about whether to get treatment.
  • Follow-up testing after a positive PSA test can be invasive, time-consuming, costly, and stressful.

How to Check for Prostate Cancer at Home

For men wondering how to check for prostate cancer at home, it can be done. You can purchase a PSA testing kit and submit a blood sample for analysis through the mail. It’s also possible to perform a digital rectal prostate cancer check. How do you self-check for prostate cancer? Your doctor is the best source of information.

Ultimately, it’s best to have prostate cancer screening through your healthcare provider. They can ensure that the testing is performed properly and then discuss the results with you. This can prevent any stress you may experience if you misinterpret your screening results. It’s strongly recommended that you talk with your Baptist Health doctor about prostate cancer screening.

Learn more about prostate cancer from Baptist Health or find a provider to schedule a screening.

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