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What to know about prostate cancer screening

Prostate cancer is an illness that develops in the prostate gland, which is found only in males. Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer among Canadian men.
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It also is the second-leading cause of cancer death among men after lung cancer in the United States and the third-leading among men in Canada. 

Men of any age are susceptible to prostate cancer, but it tends to be more prevalent in men aged 50 and older and those who have had a brother or another close relative with the disease. As with most types of cancer, early diagnosis can mean getting on the road to treatment faster, potentially improving the outcome of recovery. One of the ways to catch cancer early is through screening.

Prostate cancer screening  

Recommendations 

The Canadian Cancer Society says men should talk with their health care provider about screening. 

• Men who are aged 55 to 69 should make individual decisions about being screened for prostate cancer with a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. 

• Before deciding, individuals should consult with doctors about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening. 

• Men who are 70 years old and older should not be screened for prostate cancer routinely. 

Most prostate cancers grow slowly or not at all, so the goal of prostate cancer screening is to find cancers that may be at elevated risk for spreading if untreated, and to find them early before they spread.

What is a PSA test? 

A PSA test measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen in a man’s blood. PSA is a protein produced by both noncancerous and cancerous tissue in the prostate gland. While lesser amounts of PSA are normally found in the blood, higher levels of PSA may indicate the presence of prostate cancer. 

It is important to note that a high PSA score is not indicative of cancer. It is only one factor to consider regarding prostate cancer risk. The presence of an enlarged prostate or the presence of lumps or hard areas in conjunction with a PSA may lead to further testing. However, digital rectal exams, (DRE) wherein a doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate, are not always preferred by patients, who may only opt for PSA testing for screening. 

 The Canadian Cancer Society says using the PSA and digital rectal exams together are better than using either test alone. PSA testing together with DRE may help find a dangerous cancer early when it is easier to treat. 

Benefits and detriments to screening 

The key benefit of undergoing prostate cancer screening is to find prostate cancers that may be at elevated risk of spreading so they can be treated and contained, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. 

One consequence of prostate cancer screening is the risk of false positive test results. False positive results may lead to further testing, including a biopsy of the prostate.  

Prostate cancer screening can lead to stress and over-treatment — with some men getting operations or radiation with side effects that might not have been necessary since prostate cancer is often very slow-growing and does not warrant treatment. Complications from prostate cancer treatments can include blood clots during surgery, impotence, urinary incontinence, and fecal incontinence. 

Men must make their own decisions regarding prostate cancer screening. A discussion of the risks and benefits with a doctor can help men make informed decisions.

This Movember feature is brought to you by Great West Media Content Studio and in part by the Sponsors on this page. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.