Cancer Education and Early Detection

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Recommendations Regarding Screening for Prostate Health

Why Is Prostate Health Important?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. About 180,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year. Prostate cancer can also be deadly. About 40,000 men will die of the disease this year. Prostate cancer accounts for 30% of all make cancers and 13% of all male cancer-related deaths. The rate of prostate cancer is at least one-third higher among African American men than among men in other ethnic or racial groups.

The American Cancer Society recognizes there are points of confusion regarding prostate cancer screening. Therefore, it is important that you discuss the subject with your health care provider. Using a variety of tests, doctors may often find prostate cancer when the disease is still at an early stage, even before men have symptoms of the disease. This is important because when the disease is found early there may be more effective treatment options to choose from. The number of deaths from prostate cancer has gone down, suggesting that this is a result of screening, but this has not been proven.

Most importantly, the decision to be screened for prostate cancer should be based on your individual medical condition and health care needs. Men who choose to undergo screening should begin at age 50. However, men in high-risk groups, such as African Americans or those with brothers or fathers who have had prostate cancer, may choose to begin screening at a younger age. More research needs to be done to decide at what age men in these high-risk groups should begin having screening.

The PSA Blood Test

The PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) blood test is a very important tool for detecting prostate cancer. During the test, blood is drawn and measured for a substance called PSA, which is produced by prostate gland cells. A PSA level of 4.0 ng/ml or less is usually considered normal.* However, if the amount of PSA in your blood is higher than normal, it does not necessarily mean that you have prostate cancer. Several less serious conditions can also cause PSA levels to rise above 4.0. Just to be sure, your doctor may recommend that you have a second PSA test at a later time to see if your PSA level remains high, or order additional tests, such as a free (unbound) PSA blood test, transrectal ultrasound, or a biopsy to find out if cancer is present.

The Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)

The DRE (digital rectal exam) allows a physician to feel if a tumor is present in the rectum. For men, this exam can help detect prostate cancer.

ACS Recommends:

At Age 50:

  • Talk with your health care provider about beginning annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood testing and digital rectal exams (DRE) of the prostate gland. Factors to consider include your overall health and life expectancy.
  • Men who are in high-risk groups, such as African Americans, or men who have a history of prostate cancer in close family members, should talk with their health care providers about beginning screenings at a younger age.

*Up to 20% of men with prostate cancer will have a normal PSA level.

American Cancer Society - Guidelines for the Early Detection of Prostate Cancer