June 04, 2024

When to Start Getting Prostate Cancer Screenings?

Man with a doctor

Guide to Prostate Cancer Screenings

Prostate cancer develops in the prostate, which is a small, walnut-shaped gland that produces seminal fluid for nourishing and transporting sperm. Other than skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer in American men. In its early stages, it may cause no symptoms.

Prostate cancer treatments can be effective, but it’s crucial to catch the condition early. That’s why talking with your doctor about prostate cancer screening is so important. They can explain prostate screening guidelines, including what age to start prostate screening.

Age and Risk Factors for Screening

The guidance on when to get screened for prostate cancer is based on your age and other factors.

Age to start screening

The ages to begin prostate cancer screening are:

  • Average risk: Age 50
  • High risk: Age 45
  • Very high risk: Age 40

Risk factors

As indicated above, risk factors affect prostate cancer screening recommendations. Specifically, the age of initial prostate screening for you will be lower if you have either of these characteristics:

  • Race. African American men have a higher prostate cancer risk. Consequently, the black male prostate cancer screening age is lower.
  • Family history. If a family member has had prostate cancer, you are in the “high risk” category. If one or more close relatives have had early-onset prostate cancer, you’re at a “very high risk” of developing it. As a result, you have the lowest age for starting screening.

Prostate Cancer Screening Tests

Doctors screen for prostate cancer in two primary ways. In a digital rectal exam (DRE), they insert a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to check the prostate, which is next to the rectum. If they have concerns about the prostate’s shape, size, or texture, they may recommend additional tests.

A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test. The doctor draws a blood sample and has it analyzed. An elevated PSA level can indicate that the prostate is infected, inflamed, enlarged, or affected by cancer.

Additional testing, if needed, can include imaging procedures and collecting tissue samples (biopsies).

How often should prostate cancer screening be done? Your doctor can answer that question based on your risk factors and current prostate cancer screening guidelines. For many people, the interval is every two to four years.

Benefits and Risks of Screening

Prostate cancer screening has many benefits. However, it also poses risks.

Screening benefits:

  • Early detection
  • Better treatment outcomes
  • Peace of mind

Screening risks:

  • False positives leading to unnecessary additional testing
  • Side effects of treatments for a type of cancer that is often slow-growing
  • Emotional stress from positive results if treatment isn’t advisable or preferred

Making an Informed Decision

It’s best to decide about the right prostate cancer screening age for you — or whether to be screened at all — in collaboration with your doctor. They can talk with you about your overall health, the life expectancy for people who develop prostate cancer, and your risk tolerance. The goal is to make an informed decision that aligns with your health objectives.

Learn More.