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Prostate Cancer Screening

Problems with the prostate (a gland in the male reproductive system) become more common as a man ages. These problems include prostate cancer, a common cancer in men. Whether screening for prostate cancer results in fewer men dying from prostate cancer is not clear; experts disagree on the value of prostate cancer screening. Men should talk with their healthcare providers about whether they want to be screened for prostate cancer.

Prostate Cancer

Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. These cells form in one area and can spread through the body. Prostate cancer causes no symptoms in its early stages. In fact, urinary problems are more likely to be symptoms of another condition.

Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer

The things that can increase a man’s chance of developing prostate cancer are called risk factors. These include:

  • Age. The risk of developing prostate cancer increases as you grow older.

  • Family history. If your father or brother has had prostate cancer, your risk of developing it is higher.

  • Race. African American men are more likely than other men to develop prostate cancer. They are also more likely to die of prostate cancer than other men with this disease.

Screening for Cancer

If a man wishes to be screened for prostate cancer, he should first understand both the possible benefits and also harms that may result from screening. A blood test called prostate specific antigen (PSA) is good at finding prostate cancer. But, for many men, prostate cancer is very slow growing and would not have caused any problems over their lifetime, even if not found or treated. Current tests are not very good at figuring out which prostate cancers are fast growing and which are slow growing. Men who are treated for prostate cancer by surgery or radiation treatments often suffer from loss of control of their urinary bladders (incontinence) and from loss of ability to have sexual activity (impotence). 

Factors That Affect PSA

Many factors can affect PSA levels. Some, such as age, an increase in the size of the prostate gland that often comes with getting older, and prostate cancer, are ongoing. Others, such as an infection in the prostate gland called prostatitis or recent sexual activity, have only a temporary effect on PSA. Your healthcare provider can explain how these factors may affect the timing of the PSA test and your results.

Further Testing

A high PSA level doesn’t always mean cancer. More tests need to be done. After looking at the results of your screening tests, your healthcare provider may recommend other tests.

Biopsy

This test involves taking tissue samples from the prostate. With an instrument that makes harmless sound waves across the prostate gland as a guide, a thin needle is used to remove samples. The tissue samples are then checked in a lab to see whether there are cancer cells and, if so, how likely they are to grow quickly.

Studies to Check for Spread of Cancer

If cancer is found, studies may be done to check for its spread. Bone scans check whether cancer has spread to bones. Other tests look for cancer in bones and other tissues.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 5/15/2011
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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