Prostate Cancer Exam – Screening And Tests

October 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Prostate Cancer Test

Ninth most common form of cancer in the world; second most common non skin cancer in men in America; second greatest cause of cancer deaths amongst men in the United States; over 200,000 new diagnoses per year; and close to 20,000 deaths every year as well.

The statistics in the above paragraph all pertain to prostate cancer, one of the most feared and well known diseases in the United States. These facts are made worse by the fact that the disease is not too easily detectable. There are no early symptoms, so that the condition could very well have gotten to advanced stages before it is diagnosed, at which time treating with the intent to cure could very well be a futile effort. Thankfully it is known that the disease is rare amongst men younger than 45 years of age and grows more common in the 60s.

As a result of the above, the American Cancer Society ACS recommends that men aged 50 years and older should seriously consider having annual screening tests to determine if they have the disease… in order to be able to catch it and get the best treatments. There is particular urgency for men who have a high risk for the disease – African American men and those who have a family history of prostate cancer. They are urged to talk to their doctors about starting annual screening tests at younger ages too.

These examinations and screening tests for prostate cancer are basically two in number:

  1. The annual Digital Rectal Exam

and

  1. The PSA test.

The digital rectal examination (DRE) requires that the doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum of the patient to feel the prostate gland. If the prostate has grown in size or changed in any way, the doctor will be able to tell this way. If there is nothing at all, the patient walks; but if the doctor suspects that they may be something, he advocates for a PSA test.

The male body produces an enzyme called the prostate specific antigen (PSA). There are constantly levels of this protein in the blood, but unless there is something wrong with the prostate, like an infection or disease. In such an instance, the blood level of the PSA markers rise above the 4.0ng/ml mark. During the PSA test, blood is drawn from the patient to be tested the laboratory. If the PSA level is above 4.0, there is cause for concern… except that it might not be prostate cancer at all. Other disorders can cause the PSA spike, so a biopsy may have to be conducted in order to confirm the diagnosis.

Understandably the annual screening with a PSA test is controversial because there are many false positives.  Sometimes an elevated PSA level occurs in men who do not have prostate cancer, leading to unnecessary additional procedures; but if it saves his life, the prostate cancer exams are totally worth it.

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