According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men, second only to skin cancer. Roughly one in every seven men will deal with the condition at some point in their lifetime. Fortunately, if prostate cancer is caught early, it is generally very treatable. But what should you expect from prostate cancer screening?
Digital Rectal Exam
The primary method used in a prostate cancer screening is the digital rectal exam (DRE). During this test, a doctor or qualified nurse will glide a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to check the size of the prostate, while also screening for any abnormalities. You can expect some mild discomfort, but your doctor will do their best to make you as comfortable as possible during the procedure. If at any point you need them to pause the procedure, let them know and they will accommodate you.
This test is entirely safe and will very rarely have any negative side-effects. Still, if you have certain pre-existing health conditions, including some forms of heart disease, be sure to consult with your doctor before signing up for a DRE. Your doctor will be able to recommend the best screening method for your situation.
Doctors can also do a simple blood test to examine your levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA), a protein released by the prostate. Elevated levels of PSA could indicate an issue inside the prostate.
The procedure and aftermath of the PSA are the same as any blood test. A doctor or nurse will take a small blood sample for analysis. There may be some small pain during the test and minor swelling at the site for a few days afterward.
This test, however, isn't perfect. Research has yet to discover exactly what normal levels of PSA are. For years, 4ng/ml was considered a normal result. Recent studies, though, have found that men with low levels of PSA can develop prostate cancer and men with high levels may not have the condition. There are also many individual factors that could cause a man's PSA levels to fluctuate widely over the course of time. The important thing is to weigh your options with your doctor to determine what type of examination is best for you to promote your health.
Once the test is completed, the next step will depend on the results. Normal results require no further action. Simply rest assured and follow up during the next annual screening.
If your doctor finds something abnormal, however, they may request further tests, such as a biopsy. During this test, a small piece of the prostate is removed and examined under a microscope. Often, doctors will also use an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to create a picture of the prostate to provide more information and act as a guide for a biopsy.
In the end, your doctors will do everything they can to make prostate cancer screening as smooth as possible so you can take charge of your health.