Experts used to recommend screening tests for prostate cancer starting at age 50 for all men—and even earlier for men at high risk.
But they no longer recommend that. Instead, the American Cancer Society and other health organizations say you should decide whether to have those tests after discussing the risks and benefits with your doctor. Some men will decide they don’t need the tests.
Why the change? A few reasons.
- One, the tests aren’t perfect. Sometimes they flag something that turns out to be harmless, and sometimes the tests miss cancer.
- Two, some prostate cancers grow so slowly that they would never threaten a man’s health. Doctors don’t have a good way yet to tell whether a cancer is slow growing or not and should be treated. But treating the cancer can have serious side effects—sometimes incontinence and sexual dysfunction—that seriously impact quality of life.
Who should be screened?
Does that mean the cancer screening tests are useless and no one should have them? No, that means it’s a discussion you should have with your doctor, then decide based on your particular circumstances what makes sense. Men at average risk of developing prostate cancer should begin having that conversation at age 50.
African American men and those who have a brother, son, or father diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65 are at higher risk. They should talk to their doctor about whether to have screening tests starting at age 40 or 45.
What are the tests like?
There are two prostate cancer screening tests doctors primarily use:
- Prostate-specific antigen, or PSA: This is simply a blood test that measures the amount of a substance called prostate-specific antigen in the blood. Higher than normal levels may be a sign of prostate cancer, although other issues could also cause elevated levels.
- Digital rectal exam: In this test, your doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to check for any lumps or other issues that could indicate a problem.
The Mayo Clinic has an excellent discussion of the pros and cons of PSA tests that can help you have a more informed talk with your doctor.
What other tests do you need?
If you decide you don’t need prostate cancer screening, does that mean you can avoid going to the doctor? No, you’re not getting out of it that easily.
There are all kinds of medical conditions you need to stay on top of. Your doctor will still want to check your blood pressure and order periodic tests for issues like diabetes, high cholesterol, and colon cancer as well as make sure your immunizations are up-to-date.
Talk to the experts.
If you have questions about your prostate health or other urological issues, the staff at Affiliated Urologists are happy to talk with you.
Affiliated Urologists is an award-winning practice recognized both locally and nationally that has provided service to patients in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and surrounding communities in the Valley, for over 40 years. The physicians emphasize top-of-the-line comprehensive urological care and strive to deliver the highest outcomes for patient satisfaction. To make an appointment, call 602-264-0608 or contact us for instructions on scheduling an appointment.
The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.