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Prostate cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the prostate gland. This is an organ found just below a man's bladder.
Screening can help find prostate cancer early. When it is found and treated early, the cancer may be cured. But it's not always treated. That's because the treatments can cause serious side effects. For most men, prostate cancer won't shorten their lives, especially if they are older and the cancer is growing slowly.
Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in men. Most cases occur in men older than 65. The disease runs in families. And it's more common in people of African descent.
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 enlarged prostate, an infection, or cancer.
Along with the PSA test, you may have a digital (finger) rectal examination. This 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: August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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