Prostate Cancer Screening: What Men Need to Know

Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. In Wisconsin, it is the most common cancer. About one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. The median age of diagnosis is around 66 (it’s rare in men under age 40).

Survival Rates Are Positive

Prostate cancer can be a serious disease, but most men diagnosed with prostate cancer don’t die from it. In fact, more than 2.5 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today.

The Importance of Screening

Early detection is one of the strongest tools to minimize the effects of prostate cancer. The common screening test for prostate cancer is a blood test for prostate specific antigen (PSA) and a rectal exam to learn about the condition of the prostate gland.

There’s some difference of opinion about when men should get this screening. It can lead to unnecessary concerns, and it’s not clear whether earlier is better. Information about the pros and cons of screening is available here.

Each man should have a discussion with his doctor about when to be screened for prostate cancer. After weighing the information, you can make an informed decision about screening. Here’s a useful video about making screening decisions.

The Right Time to Discuss Baseline Screening

If you have no symptoms and are healthy, it’s still important to have the discussion with your doctor about your first (baseline) PSA screening. The right time depends on your personal risk factors. American Association of Urology guidelines suggest:

  • Age 55 if you have an average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years (that means you don’t have other serious illnesses)
  • Age 40 for some men who have a close relative with prostate cancer, are African-American, or have other risk factors (based on individual factors)
  • Ages 55-69 seems to be the time of greatest screening benefit, so if you haven’t had a discussion with your doctor yet, consider it
  • If the first test is normal, screenings every two years or as needed depending on the baseline PSA level
  • Age 70+ or with life expectancy less than 10-15 years – no routine screening

Symptoms That Can Indicate Prostate Cancer

Early prostate cancer usually causes no symptoms. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor. They might indicate prostate cancer or possibly another disease:

  • Problems passing urine, including a slow or weak urinary stream or the need to urinate more often, especially at night
  • Blood in the urine
  • Trouble getting an erection
  • Pain in the hips, back (spine), chest (ribs), or other areas, from cancer spreading to bones
  • Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet, or even loss of bladder or bowel control, from cancer pressing on the spinal cord

The Takeaway

Check in with your doctor between the ages of 40 and 50, and earlier if you have known health problems. Think of it like getting your oil changed—preventive maintenance. Even if you are in the best of health, occasional visits to your doctor can help you plan and take action to stay healthy into your later years.

More about screening and early detection

As mentioned before, when to test men with no signs of prostate disease is not clear and should be a decision made with your doctor. For more information about the recommendations and how they were developed, see the American Urology Association guidelines.

Meet the Author

Matthew W. Johnson, MD is a board-certified urologist at AMG Urology Specialists in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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