Fortunately, prostate cancer is a disease where screening can help identify the cancer before it progresses to an advanced stage. Screening for prostate cancer is particularly important because patients typically do not have any symptoms until the cancer has reached an advanced stage.
"The decision to be screened for prostate cancer should be made after knowing the risks and benefits of the screening," said Richard V. Matern, MD, Intermountain Urological Institute. "The American Urological Association has stated that for screening to be effective and to minimize the risks of over-diagnosis and overtreatment, prostate cancer testing must be individualized based on a man’s risk factors."
Men ages 55-69 receive the greatest benefit from prostate cancer screening. A patient’s overall health status, and not age alone, is important to assess when making prostate cancer screening decisions.
The Prostate Specific Antigen blood test along with a Digital Rectal Exam allow physicians to screen for prostate cancer. The combination of both tests helps guide physicians and patients with information to aid in the diagnosis and possible treatment of such cancer.
The American Cancer Society and American Urological Society recommend patients begin discussing prostate screening with their physician:
- At age 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer and have a life expectancy of at least 10 years
- At age 45 for men at high risk of prostate cancer. This includes African-American men and men who have a 1st-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than 65)
- At age 40 for men at even higher risk (those with more than one 1st-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age).
PSA screening in men under age 40 is not recommended. Routine screening is not recommended in men over age 70 or any man with less than a 10-year life expectancy.
If no prostate cancer is detected from screening, the time between future screenings depends on the results of the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test:
- Men who have a PSA less than 2.5 ng/mL may only need to be retested every two years
- Screening should be done yearly for men whose PSA level is 2.5 ng/mL or higher
Not all prostate cancers are life threatening or require active treatment. The decision to proceed with treatment is one that should be discussed by patients and their physicians. To achieve the best possible outcome, prostate cancer needs to be found while it is still treatable. We can’t treat what we don’t know exists.