Prostate cancer is when abnormal cells begin to grow in the prostate, a walnut-sized gland in men that is responsible for producing some of the fluid in semen. The prostate is located between the bladder and the penis.
About 1 in 9 men get diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes. According to the American Cancer Society, about 174,650 American males are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019 and about 31,620 will die from it. It is most common in older men; 60 percent of diagnoses occur in men above the age of 65.
One of the biggest reasons why prostate cancer goes undetected until its later stages is that it is a slow-growing cancer, so symptoms may not become apparent for as many as 10 years after its initial appearance. Because most men do not experience any symptoms until the cancer has significantly progressed, it is essential to have regular prostate cancer screenings.
Prostate Cancer Tests
There are two primary tests used in prostate screenings: a prostate specific antigen blood test and a digital rectal exam. Both of these tests are performed in a doctor’s office.
- Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Blood Test – This blood test checks for the level of certain types of antigens in the blood. While a man’s PSA levels can vary over time, many doctors consider normal PSA levels to be 4.0 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter) and lower. In general, the higher the PSA level, the more likely it indicates the presence of prostate cancer.
- Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) – This exam is often performed in addition to the PSA blood test. It involves a doctor inserting a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for abnormal growths, lumps, or hard areas in the prostate gland.
Testing for Prostate Cancer
Men age 50 and older should discuss prostate cancer screenings with their doctor. Some men may be advised to have a screening every year. Those with risk factors for the disease – such as African-American men or men with a family history of prostate cancer – may want to begin testing earlier than 50. Early PSA blood tests could act as a baseline for later screenings.
The American Cancer Society makes the following recommendations regarding when to begin prostate cancer testing:
- Average Risk – Men with average risk of prostate cancer should begin testing for prostate cancer at the age of 50 and get tested regularly thereafter.
- High Risk – Men with a high risk of prostate cancer should begin testing for prostate cancer at the age of 45 and get tested regularly thereafter. This category includes individuals of African-American descent or those with first-degree relatives such as a father, brother, or son who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
- Very High Risk – Men with a very high risk of prostate cancer should begin testing for prostate cancer at the age of 40 and get tested regularly thereafter. This category includes individuals who had more than one first-degree relative develop prostate cancer, especially if it was diagnosed at an early age (before 65).
If you have a family history of prostate cancer, it’s essential that you consider regular testing to ensure you remain healthy. Early diagnosis gives you the upper hand in treating the condition. Dr. Desiderio Avila Jr. of Ironwood Urology is an expert urologist with a wealth of experience treating issues like prostate cancer. Call (480) 961-2323 today to make an appointment. You can also request an appointment online.