5 questions men ask about prostate cancer

June 15, 2016 | by Matthew Siegel, MD

How do you test for prostate cancer? When should you be tested? Who should get tested? There are a million (plus one!) questions men may have about prostate cancer. There are also misconceptions about prostate cancer that every man should know

The more open you are with your doctor about your questions and the more you know about what’s involved in testing, the less nervous you may feel. Start by learning the answers to some of your common questions below.

Is prostate cancer common?

The American Cancer Society estimates about 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. In this country, it is the most common cancer in men after skin cancer. As men age, the risk of prostate cancer increases, but there are tests that may find prostate cancer early.

When do you test for prostate cancer?

Have an open discussion with your doctor during your regular checkup and determine if and when you should be screened. All prostate cancers are not the same and many are slow growing. Testing is often determined by your risk factors, such as your family history, age, race or diet. Guidelines differ regarding the age men should begin screening for prostate cancer, but the Prostate Cancer Foundation recommends men over 40 discuss screenings with their doctor.

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Often, prostate cancer does not have any signs or symptoms, especially in the early stages. When signs are present, they often include urinary symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty urinating, pain or a burning sensation
  • Frequent urges to use the bathroom at night
  • Lack of bladder control
  • Blood in the urine
  • Swelling in the legs, feet or pelvis
  • Unexplained weight loss or fatigue

How do you test for prostate cancer?

Your doctor can test for prostate cancer in two ways — through a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and rectal exam. The chance of having prostate cancer goes up as the PSA level goes up. According to the American Cancer Society, when prostate cancer develops, the PSA level usually goes above 4 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood. The rectal exam can be uncomfortable but it is quick and usually not painful. Depending on the results of your rectal exam and PSA test, you may need a biopsy to know for sure if you have cancer.

How often should men get a prostate exam?  

The results of your PSA test will determine how often you need to be tested. By testing early, you may be able to find cancer before it has the chance to spread. Discuss your questions and concerns with your doctor to determine if testing is right for you.

What are your questions about prostate cancer? Share with us in the below comments.

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