Worried about your prostate health? Here’s what to expect when diagnosing prostate problems
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in the UK for men. Over 47,000 men are diagnosed annually, and more than 11,000 die as a result of it every year. The risk of getting prostate cancer increases as you get older but, as with all cancers, early diagnosis can dramatically improve chances of survival. There is currently no national screening programme for prostate cancer—if you are worried about it, discuss your concerns with your doctor; they will be able to recommend an appropriate test for you. It is especially worth getting tested if a close relative such as a brother or father has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, as your risk of getting it is two and a half times higher. Read on for a breakdown of the most common screening methods.
Usually, doctors will recommend a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test to measure how much is in the blood. PSA is a protein that is produced by normal cells in the prostate but also by prostate cancer cells. All men have a small amount of PSA in their blood, but abnormal levels could be a sign of an underlying health issue. Raised levels of PSA can indicate the presence of prostate cancer or another prostate problem. While it is not a conclusive proof of cancer, it is a good first step for doctors to determine whether more tests need to be done.
A digital-rectal examination, or DRE, is perhaps the most common test for prostate cancer. A doctor will insert a lubricated and gloved finger into the rectum as the prostate gland can be felt through the rectum walls. This method is not always able to detect cancer, but it is often performed to rule out benign prostate enlargement. Enlarged prostates are common in men over 50 and will cause the gland to grow firm and smooth. Cancer, on the other hand, will make the gland feel hard and bumpy.
A biopsy is the final test for prostate cancer. It is usually performed on people at higher risk of the disease, including those who have presented symptoms in the PSA and DRE tests or those who are genetically at risk. A sample of the prostate is taken and sent to the lab where it is tested for cancerous tissue. The sample is taken using a needle; local anaesthetic will be given to minimise any discomfort.
Read more: Advances in Prostate Imaging