The prostate gland is an organ found just below a man's bladder. It is the size and shape of a walnut. It surrounds the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body through the penis. This tube is called the urethra.
Prostate cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the prostate. It is the second most common type of cancer in men. (Skin cancer is the most common.)
Most cases of prostate cancer occur in men older than 65. The disease runs in families. And it's more common in men of African descent.
When it's found and treated early, prostate cancer may be cured. But it is not always treated. This is because prostate cancer may not shorten your life, especially if you are older and the cancer is growing slowly.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
The main screening test for prostate cancer is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This is a blood test that measures how much PSA is in your blood. A high level may mean that you have an enlargement, infection, or cancer.
Along with the PSA test, you may have a digital rectal examination. The digital (finger) rectal examination checks for anything abnormal in your prostate. To do the examination, the doctor puts a lubricated, gloved finger into your rectum.
If these tests point to cancer, you may need a prostate biopsy.
In a biopsy, the doctor takes small tissue samples from your prostate gland. Another doctor then looks at the tissue under a microscope to see if there are cancer cells, signs of infection, or other problems. The results help diagnose prostate cancer.
Neither a PSA test nor a digital rectal examination can tell you for sure that you do or do not have cancer. But they can help you decide if you need more tests, such as a prostate biopsy. Screening tests may be useful because most men with prostate cancer don't have symptoms. It can be hard to know if you have cancer until it is more advanced. And then it's harder to treat.
But having a PSA test can also cause harm. The test may show high levels of PSA that aren't caused by cancer. So you could have a prostate biopsy you didn't need. Or the PSA test might be normal when there is cancer, so a cancer might not be found early. The test can also find cancers that would never have caused a problem during your lifetime. So you might have treatment that was not needed.
Prostate cancer usually develops late in life and grows slowly. For many men, it does not shorten their lives. Some experts advise screening only for men who are at high risk.
Talk with your doctor to see if screening is right for you.
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Current as of: July 26, 2016
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
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