Prostate Cancer Screening

by Anna Dalrymple, MD 

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness month! 

Why is it important? 

In the US, 16% of men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Prostate cancer is the third most common cancer in American men. Prostate cancer can cause significant illness and/or death.

What are the risk factors? 

The risk of prostate cancer in men increases with age. If you have a family history you are also at increased risk. African Americans are at increased risk. Smoking increases your risk. 

Are there symptoms of Prostate Cancer? 

Many times, the answer is no. Sometimes patients will have symptoms of an enlarged prostate (which is often unrelated to cancer) and this includes having to wake up to go to the bathroom, frequent or urgent feelings to urinate, or a weak stream when urinating. Other symptoms may include blood in your urine or pain in your bones. 

How do we screen for prostate cancer? 

The PSA is a blood test that can tell us helpful information about your prostate. It can be elevated if you have prostate cancer. It can also be elevated, however, if you have other diseases such as an enlargement of your prostate or an inflammation of your prostate. Often, your doctor will do a physical exam in addition to a blood test. 

When does prostate cancer screening usually start? 

This depends. Some people do not benefit from having prostate cancer screening and it is important to discuss with your doctor first. If you have risk factors, you may want to ask your doctor when you turn 40. For most men, this conversation can wait until 50 or 55 years old. 

How often should I be screened? 

There is no clear rule as to how often men should be screened. This can be a decision you make with your doctor, and may range from yearly to every 4 or 5 years. Often, we will decide to stop screening for prostate cancer when you are 75 years old. This is because your risk of dying from prostate cancer at this age is very low and the harms of screening outweigh the benefits. 

Christine Weeks