One Thing Men Should Do to Stay Healthier
Don't forget to talk to your doctor about this screening if you are a middle-aged male.
Prostate cancer, like many other cancers, doesn’t always cause symptoms in its earliest stages. In fact, many times you don’t know you have prostate cancer until it reaches more advanced stages. That’s why if you’re a man over a specific age (depending on other risk factors), your doctor may recommend getting screened for prostate cancer. This can help identify the disease at an earlier stage, when it is most treatable.
What’s involved in a prostate screening?
A prostate screening may include a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and/or a digital rectal examination.
- Prostate Specific Antigen Test (PSA) – This blood test measures the amount of prostate specific antigen in your blood. One issue is that the antigen is produced by both normal and cancerous cells so a high level of the antigen could be a sign that you have prostate cancer, but it can also be due to other benign causes. If your PSA level is higher than normal, your doctor may recommend other tests, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound or biopsy.
- Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) – During this exam, your doctor inserts a gloved finger in the rectum and checks if the prostate gland has any hard, lumpy, or abnormal areas.
Prostate screenings offer a simple way to diagnose prostate cancer even if you have no symptoms, but there are some drawbacks to being screened. That’s why it’s best to talk with your doctor about whether prostate screening is right for you.
Do I really need a prostate screening?
PIH Health Geriatric Medicine physician Albert Khan Bui MD says, “It is generally recommended that men at average risk for the disease begin talking with their doctors about whether to have prostate screenings starting at age 50. If you at a higher risk, such as having a family history of prostate cancer or being African American, you may need to begin screenings at a younger age. Prostate cancer screenings aren’t recommended for men 70 and older.”
Prostate screenings are somewhat controversial because they don’t always produce accurate information about your prostate cancer risk. False positives can occur, resulting in unnecessary treatment or tests. Higher-than-normal PSA levels can be related to prostate inflammation, benign prostate enlargement, some medications and other factors. False negatives are also a possibility. That’s why it is best to discuss prostate screening with your doctor so you can carefully weigh the pros and cons.
How serious is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men after skin cancer. And it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men after lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. But although prostate cancer is serious, many men live with a slow-growing form of the cancer for years and eventually die of unrelated causes.
Treatment for prostate cancer may prolong your life, but it also may cause unpleasant side effects, including incontinence, erectile dysfunction or bowel problems. Since many prostate cancers are slow growing, you and your doctor will need to consider the possible benefits and drawbacks of treatment if you do have the disease. This may factor into your decision of whether or not regular prostate screening is right for you.
How can I lower my prostate cancer risk?
Taking a few steps to improve your overall health can also help you reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer. A low-fat diet that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean meats, fish and poultry may lower overall cancer risk. Regular exercise, quitting smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation and maintaining a healthy weight may also decrease the likelihood that you’ll develop prostate or other forms of cancer.
Be sure to stay on top of your health and make an annual appointment (more frequently if needed), with your primary care physician also known as a Family Medicine or Internal Medicine doctor. If you are in need of a new primary care physician, please visit PIHHealth.org/Find-a-Doctor.
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