What are the risks?

Because there are no standard tests for prostate cancer, it’s difficult to assess the risks. Currently, the two tests that are most often used in screening for prostate cancer have been shown to have the following problems:

  • Screening may not improve outcomes for prostate cancer.
  • Sometimes the tests are wrong.
  • Further study and follow-up are needed to determine best practices for prostate cancer screening.

Beyond some mild discomfort, there are no long-term side effects of the two tests most commonly used for prostate screening, blood tests and digital rectal exams.

What are the benefits?

As with most cancers, it is easier to treat prostate cancer if it’s found early, before it has grown or spread to other parts of your body. Prostate cancer detected early enough has a good prognosis and in some cases, may not require treatment.

While there is no agreement about standards for prostate screening and no government recommendations, the American Cancer Society recommends regular screening tests for those with high risk due to genetic or lifestyle factors.

How do I prepare?

Prostate screening can be done as part of a routine medical exam. You may be asked to disrobe privately and put on a gown to allow your doctor access to conduct the exam.

How is it done?

Prostate screening has an initial testing phase involving a digital rectal exam and in some cases, blood tests to screen for PSA (prostate specific antigens), which are substances in your blood that can be a sign of prostate cancer.

The digital rectal exam involves your doctor or healthcare provider inserting a glove-covered finger into the rectum to feel the prostate for abnormalities. If your doctor has concerns either because of the blood tests or the digital rectal exam, you may be asked to undergo the following additional tests:

  • Prostate ultrasound or MRI
  • Prostate biopsy

Depending on your age and other risk factors, these tests might not be needed, so talk with your doctor about next steps in your prostrate screening process.


Frequently Asked Questions

When will I know the results?

If your initial exam or bloodwork reveals concerns, your doctor may recommend some additional follow-up and testing. You should be aware of the results of the digital rectal exam immediately. If your doctor recommended a blood test, those results may take several days.