Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer among men in the United States. The incidence rate increases in men 50 years of age and older forming the basis for the recommendation that all men over age 50 should discuss screening options with their doctor. For men at higher risk, screening may be needed at a younger age.
Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer
The screenings your doctor recommends will depend heavily on your risk factors for developing prostate cancer. Keep in mind that having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely get the disease, and having no risk factors does not mean you cannot develop it.
Studies have linked several factors to an increased risk for prostate cancer:
- Older age - most common in men over the age of 50
- Family history of prostate cancer
- African American men have a higher incidence rate
- Diagnosis of high-grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (prostate cells that look abnormal under a microscope)
- Certain genome changes (mutations)
It is important that both you and your physician are aware of any factors that could increase your risk of developing prostate cancer in order to determine if screening is necessary. If you have risk factors your doctor may want to start screening at a younger age or screen more frequently.
Screening Tests for Prostate Cancer
Digital Rectal Exam
A digital rectal exam is often part of a routine physical examination. If you are a man over age 50, a digital rectal exam should be part of your annual checkup. Your doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the lower part of your rectum to feel the prostate for lumps or other abnormalities. If your doctor finds anything unusual, a second screening test may be performed.
Prostate-Specific Antigen Test
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test measures the blood levels of PSA, an enzyme produced by prostate cells. PSA may be found in an increased amount in the blood of men who have prostate cancer. There is no consensus in the medical community on the effectiveness of the PSA test to screen for prostate cancer, so discuss it with your doctor if you think you may be at risk for the disease.