Starting at age 55, men should start getting screened for prostate cancer every year at their doctor’s discretion. If there’s a family history of prostate cancer, men should start screenings as early as the age of 40.
Before undergoing screening, men should talk to a medical professional about the potential risks and benefits of taking the test. While a vast majority of men who get screened will have a better glimpse of their health and potentially reduce the risk of death, there is a small chance of false positives and other risks associated with the test.
When a false negative occurs, this can lead to prostate cancer treatment that a man may not need. For example, some men may opt for surgery or radiation therapy even though their cancer is slow-growing and not causing any problems. These treatments can also come with the risk of serious side effects, such as urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction.
Clinicians must therefore screen men for prostate cancer using the PSA test with caution, and patients must be informed of both the risks and benefits of testing before undergoing screening.
What is a Prostate Cancer Exam?
There are two primary ways doctors may examine whether there are abnormalities in the prostate: a PSA blood test and a digital rectal screening test.
A prostate cancer exam is a medical examination used to observe and feel the prostate for any lumps or changes in size. The prostate gland is a small, walnut-shaped gland located just below the bladder in men. The exam usually involves the doctor feeling the prostate through the rectum.
One type of prostate cancer exam is the prostate cancer screening (PSA) test. The PSA test is a blood test that measures the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. If the value falls between 2.0 to 4.0 ng/mL, the doctor may advise you to get tested yearly, although that figure isn’t alarming.
If the value is above 4 ng/mL, it may also be subject to a more thorough investigation as it could indicate conditions such as:
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
- Prostate cancer
- Enlarged prostate
Another type of prostate cancer exam is the digital rectal exam (DRE). The DRE involves the doctor inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate for any lumps or changes in size.
If abnormalities have been found, doctors will urge patients to continue taking further evaluations like a prostate biopsy, an MRI scan, or other effective therapy procedures.
Are Prostate Exams Painful?
Prostate exams can cause discomfort, but they’re not usually painful. If you have conditions that can make the test uncomfortable, such as anal fissures and hemorrhoids, tell your doctor about it. They may give you a local anesthetic to numb the area.
Risk Factors of Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer mortality and diagnosis are two different things.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that it’s the third most common type of cancer, just before lung and colorectal cancer. In 2020, it’s estimated that 13% of men in the US will have prostate cancer at some point in their lives.
That said, with the advancement of the medical field and technology, a man is less likely to experience prostate cancer death. One recent statistic found that only 15 out of 100,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer will succumb to it.
That said, there are some risk factors that may increase a man’s chance of developing prostate cancer. They are as follows:
- Age: The older a man is, the more likely he is to develop prostate cancer.
- Family History: If a man’s father or brother has had prostate cancer, his risk of developing it goes up.
- Ethnicity: African-American men are 60% more likely to develop prostate cancer than Caucasians. People from North America and Europe are also more likely to develop it.
- Obesity: Men who are obese have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
- Smoking: Men who smoke have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
If you have any of these risk factors, it’s important to speak with your doctor about getting screened for prostate cancer. By catching the cancer early, you can prevent it from worsening and causing serious health complications.
What to Prepare Before Screening for Prostate Cancer
There are a few things you can do to prepare for your prostate cancer screening.
- Scheduling an appointment with your doctor
- Talking to your doctor about your family medical history
- Making sure to tell your doctor of existing health conditions
You should also abstain from sexual activity or ejaculation for at least 48 hours before the screening. This will help to clear the prostate of any potential fluids that could interfere with the test results.
Another common worry for people who are getting screened for prostate cancer is whether they should poop before the exam. Unlike a colonoscopy, you don’t have to worry about preparing your bowels for a prostate exam.
If you don’t feel like you need to poop, you can go ahead and skip it. Don’t feel ashamed if fecal matter does come out during the exam either, as it’s not uncommon.
How Long Should I Wait for my PSA Test Results?
It can take one or two weeks on average to get your PSA test results back from the lab. In the meantime, stay calm and continue living a healthy lifestyle. This not only helps you improve your prostate health, but general health too.
Positive lifestyle changes may include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting your alcohol intake
Takeaways for Prostate Cancer Screenings and Improving Men’s Health
Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the world. However, as doctors detect prostate cancer early, they can ensure that the client gets a much better chance of survival.
If you’re over the age of 50, have a family history of prostate cancer, or are overweight, you should speak with a doctor about getting screened for prostate cancer.
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