Know the Basics of Prostate Cancer Screening

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month – a time to share information about the life-saving benefits of prostate cancer screening and early detection. Prostate cancer can only be cured if treated when the cancer is still contained within the prostate gland. Once the cancer spreads to lymph nodes or bones, it is treatable, but not curable.

Prostate cancer screening is recommended annually beginning at age 50. Earlier screening is recommended for men with a family history of prostate cancer and African-American men, who also have a higher risk of developing the disease. Men in both groups should schedule yearly screenings beginning at age 40. Because prostate cancer grows slowly, routine screening is not recommended for men older than 75 or for men who are not in good health.

Screening consists of a blood test, called a PSA (prostate-specific antigen), and a digital rectal examination. Because prostate cancer does not generally cause symptoms, screening with a PSA and rectal examination is necessary even in the absence of symptoms. The rectal exam is needed to check for hard areas in the prostate that can signify cancer even in the absence of an abnormal PSA. The blood test, which detects 90 percent of all prostate cancer, measures the level of PSA, a protein made only by prostate tissue. When there is any problem with the prostate, such as infection, enlargement or cancer, the PSA level increases. With prostate cancer, the PSA will rise even in the cancer’s earliest stages, making the PSA test a valuable preventive healthcare tool for men younger than 75.

Normal PSA levels vary depending on age. For men in their 40s and 50s, a normal PSA is typically less than 2.5 ng/mL. Most urologists recommend a biopsy for middle-aged men if PSA readings are between 2.5 and 4 ng/mL.

Common treatments for prostate cancer are surgical removal of the prostate or radiation. Robotic surgeries achieve outstanding results for patients with very few side effects. When radiation is administered, radioactive “seeds” are implanted in the prostate to treat the cancer. Clinical trials are ongoing to find even better ways of treating prostate cancer.

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