Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in men and one in six men are at risk of developing prostate cancer in their lifetime. Therefore it is very important to have regular prostate exams to ensure that prostate cancer can be diagnosed early. In this guide we shall look at how often you should have a prostate exam.
How Often Should You Have a Prostate Exam?
Generally speaking, it has been recommended that men over the age of 40 have a prostate exam annually. However, the actual regularity that you should have them depends on your personal history and advice from your doctor. As you become older your risk of getting prostate cancer increases – so your prostate exams should also increase.
Doctors recommend that during your twenties and thirties, you should be having a prostate exam every two to three years. If you have a strong family history of prostate cancer then you may be advised to have them more regularly as you are more at risk. Some races are also more susceptible to prostate cancer – for example African-Americans are more likely to get prostate cancer than white Americans – so they may too be recommended to have more regular prostate exams.
Why is it Important to have a Regular Prostate Exam?
Prostate exams are not the most pleasant things to have to get done – and many men put them off for years. However, their importance cannot be stressed enough.
The symptoms of prostate cancer are often very mild – and cancers in that area generally grow incredibly slowly over many years without causing any noticeable symptoms in the patient. Without regular prostate exams, prostate cancer can go unnoticed until it’s too late for treatment to work.
With early detection treatment is very successful and the majority of men survive. However, late detection has very poor survival rates.
Just a few minutes a year out of your schedule can both give you peace of mind and can save your life.
What Types of Prostate Exams are there?
There are two main types of prostate exams – digital rectal examination (DRE) and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test.
A digital rectal examination involves an internal examination of the rectum and is performed by a physician or other healthcare professional. The procedure involves inserting a lubricated finger into the rectum and feeling the prostate for any abnormalities in the region. It only takes approximately 1 minute to complete the relatively pain free procedure. The doctor can reach the back of the prostate using this procedure and can make a judgment as to whether further tests are required to diagnose or eliminate cancer.
The prostate-specific antigen blood test tests the number of protein cells produced by the prostate gland. In normal, healthy men the presence of prostate-specific antigen blood cells is only in small quantities. If the test brings back a result of high levels of the blood cells then they will usually suggest further testing. Further testing can include rectal ultrasound imaging and a prostate biopsy.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration have approved the test and recommends that men over the age of 50 should have the test done annually. However, the rate of false-negatives and false-positive results mean that the examination should also be coupled with other testing to completely eliminate the chance of cancer.
What is Looked for in a Prostate Exam?
During a digital rectal examination, the health care practitioner is feeling around for any signs of abnormalities that could indicate the presence of cancer or other problems. Some of these abnormalities can include lumps, rashes and hemorrhoids.
A prostate-specific androgen blood test – as we looked at before – is essentially looking for abnormalities in the presence of the cell that is considered to suggest prostate cancer is present. If there are abnormalities then further testing may be required.
However, a prostate exam – both internal and blood test – cannot confirm the presence of prostate cancer – they simply inform the physician that there are abnormalities. Further testing is required to find out the cause of these abnormalities.