Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men in the United States and is more common in older men than younger men. While this article focuses specifically on prostate cancer screenings and questions you should ask your doctor, you can read more information about prostate cancer in our article on it. This article covers what prostate cancer is, how it develops, the basics of screening for it, and more.
Depending on your age and other factors, your doctor may recommend getting screened (tested) for prostate cancer. Most commonly, prostate cancer screenings are completed for those aged 55 and up, but if you are younger than this and have concerns, predisposition, or other personal reasons, you should talk to your doctor about your risks and the possibility of being screened for it.
If you’re age 55 to 69:
The decision to get screened is a personal choice that you can make after talking with your doctor, and you might decide that you’re okay with the risks of getting screened, or you might decide the risks aren’t worth it. Together, you and your doctor can decide what’s right for you and evaluate your options.
If you’re age 70 or older:
Prostate screening isn’t recommended because the risks outweigh the benefits for most men in this age range, and this is true even if you’re at a higher risk for prostate cancer. However, if you have questions about prostate cancer, talk to your doctor. Many men have questions about prostate cancer screening. The information below can help you start a conversation with your doctor or nurse about the risks and benefits of screening.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a gland that helps make semen (the fluid that carries sperm). It’s located below the bladder and in front of the rectum.
Who is at risk for prostate cancer?
Any man can get prostate cancer. But the risk is higher for men who:
- Those of older age. Your risk for developing prostate cancer increases as you age and is most seen in patients above the age of 50.
- For unknown reasons, black people show higher rates of developing prostate cancer than all other racial groups. In addition, black people show higher rates of developing aggressive or more advanced forms of it.
- Family history plays a crucial role. If a blood relative of yours, such as a parent or sibling, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you may be at increased risk.
- If you have a family history of genes that are associated with breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a family history of breast cancer, your risk for prostate cancer is also elevated.
Two types of screenings exist.
If one of these screenings produces an abnormality, your doctor may complete further tests to determine if you have prostate cancer or not.
Why isn’t prostate screening recommended for all men?
All screening tests have both risks and benefits. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to get screened:
- Many prostate cancers grow so slowly that men won’t have symptoms or die from the cancer
- Treatment for prostate cancer can cause problems like erectile dysfunction (impotence) or loss of bladder control
- Prostate screening sometimes says you have cancer when you really don’t, and follow-up tests can cause problems like infections
What do I ask the doctor?
When you visit the doctor, it helps to have questions written down ahead of time. You can also ask a family member or friend to go with you and take notes.
Print this list of questions and take it to your next appointment.
- Am I at high risk for prostate cancer?
- Are there things I can do to lower my risk for prostate cancer?
- What are the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening and treatment for me?
- Are there any warning signs or symptoms of prostate cancer to look out for?
- If the results of the screening test show that I might have prostate cancer, what are my options for diagnosis and treatment?
These questions are important to ask your doctor to assess your personal need for a prostate cancer screening and to discuss your options when it comes to treatment should you be diagnosed. Remember that your doctor is just another person, and his or her role is work with you so that you can live a healthy life and avoid a late-term diagnosis.