Next to skin cancer, prostate cancer is the second-most common form of cancer found in American men. Like many other cancers, precautionary tests and screenings for prostate cancer are an important part of prevention and early detection.
A prostate exam is used to detect signs of prostate cancer and other conditions such as an inflamed or enlarged prostate. If you are at risk of prostate cancer, it’s important to schedule regular exams. Here’s what you can expect.
Who Needs a Prostate Exam?
The American Cancer Society recommends that men “have a chance to make an informed decision” regarding prostate screening, including a conversation with their doctor about potential risks and benefits of cancer screening. This opportunity should come at the following life stages:
- • Age 50: Men with an average risk of prostate cancer and that have a life expectancy of at least 10 years should discuss screenings with their doctor.
- • Age 45: If you are a man at a higher risk of prostate cancer—this includes African American men and men with a close family history of prostate cancer at an early age (before 65)—you may consider screenings at age 45.
- • Age 40: Men at extremely high risk, i.e. men with multiple first-degree relatives who had prostate cancer at a younger age, should discuss screenings.
Types of Exams
There are two different types of examinations your doctor may recommend:
- 1. Digital Rectal Exam (DRE): This is a common test used to check problems in the prostate (it’s also one that’s debated among medical professionals in terms of when men should begin screening and the regularity with which it’s needed). You can make the decision to start screening with the help of your doctor. During a DRE, you will bend at the waist or lie on your side with your knees bent, while your doctor gently inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel for abnormalities. Both your prostate and pelvic area will be examined. You may feel an uncomfortable sensation during this exam, but it doesn’t take long.
- 2. Prostate-specific antigen exam: This is a blood test that can help determine whether signs of prostate cancer are present. For this exam, your doctor will test your blood for the levels of PSA (prostate-specific antigen), which can rise due to prostate cancer, inflammation or enlargement. Some forms of prostate cancer, however, can lower your PSA levels. There are risks of false positives or false negatives with PSA tests, so it’s important to discuss the pros and cons of PSA exams with your doctor.
Preparing for Exam
If you have any conditions such as hemorrhoids, anal tears or other problems in the anus, or are taking any medications and supplements, your doctor will need to know this information prior to the exam. You should also ask your doctor if you need to abstain from sexual activity for a period of time, as recent ejaculation can affect PSA levels.
After the Exam
If there are concerns found with your DRE, your doctor will discuss them with you—certain factors, like an enlarged prostate, can be normal with age and may not signal a major concern.
In other cases, your doctor may recommend additional tests such as an ultrasound or a biopsy. If a PSA test is given, your doctor will go over the lab results with you and explain the readings. Every case is different, and your doctor will help determine the best course of action based on your results.
If you are at or near an age where you might need to start considering prostate exams, or if you are at a higher risk of a prostate condition, speak to your healthcare provider about your options for prostate exams.
Our staff offers a variety of services, including in-office PSA testing, a screening for prostate cancer. We work with you and your primary care physician to develop an individualized care plan for you based on the latest technology and research.
“American Cancer Society Recommendations for Prostate Cancer Early Detection.” American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/early-detection/acs-recommendations.html
“The Prostate Exam: What You Should Know.” Healthline.com. http://www.healthline.com/health/mens-health/how-is-a-prostate-exam-done#Overview1
“Digital Rectal Exam for Prostate Problems.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/guide/prostate-cancer-digital-rectal-exam