At some point in time, all men should be tested for prostate cancer. While healthcare professionals recommend getting regular screenings beginning at the age of 50, African-American men, who have higher rates of prostate cancer than any other ethnic group, should consider getting screenings as early as age 40, especially if they have a family history of the disease. If that’s you, consult with your doctor and create a plan that’s right for you.
There are two primary tests to determine whether you have prostate cancer, and while one of the tests is a bit invasive and many men try to avoid it, it can save your life. The digital rectal (DRE) exam and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test are the two most common prostate cancer exams. During the DRE exam, the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to feel the back wall of the prostate gland to check for any bumps or hard areas on the prostate. Those types of abnormalities could be an indication that something is wrong.
The PSA test, which is a blood test, often goes hand in hand with the DRE test. As described by Cancer Treatment Centers of America, “a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test measures the level of PSA in the blood. The prostate gland produces PSA, a protein that at an elevated level may be a sign of prostate cancer.” A high PSA reading, however, is not always an indication of prostate cancer. It could also mean that non-cancerous conditions such as inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis) and enlargement of the prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) are present.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “false positive” readings are common, and about one in four men with an abnormal PSA count may not be diagnosed with prostate cancer. It is also possible to have what is called a “false negative” test result. That result would indicate that you do not have prostate cancer when in fact, you do.
Your doctor can also order a trans-rectal ultrasound and biopsy to confirm or rule out cancer, if necessary. The bottom line is determining when to begin screenings and getting them regularly is the best way to be informed about the health of your prostate.