Prostate cancer screening

Some prostate cancers are aggressive and can spread throughout the body quickly, which makes early detection essential. Studies show that beginning cancer treatment as early as possible has the best chances for success.

Cancer of the prostate is one of the most common types of cancer. Many prostate cancers are not aggressive and stay contained to the gland itself. Treating these types of cancers generally results in good outcomes. However, some are more aggressive.

Prostate cancer screening is important in men over 50 because the cancer may not present any signs or symptoms in its early stages. At more advanced stages, symptoms and signs of prostate cancer may include:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Blood in semen
  • Bone pain
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Erectile dysfunction

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.

When should you get screened for prostate cancer?

The medical community generally agrees that men over 50 years old should discuss prostate cancer screening options with their doctors, although for those with a high risk-profile this conversation can start younger. Screening can identify cancer early, before symptoms develop. By reviewing risk factors and talking about personal preferences with your doctor, you can develop a personalized screening plan that works best for you and decide how often you should be screened.

Risk factors for prostate cancer include:

  • Family history. Your chance of prostate cancer may increase if you share genes with someone who also has had prostate cancer. It may also increase if your family genealogy carries BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes or if there is a strong history of breast cancer.
  • Age. Prostate cancer is most common in men after they turn 50.
  • Obesity. Though studies aren't perfectly clear, they do suggest people who are obese may be at higher risk of prostate cancer than are those with a healthy weight.

How do you test for prostate cancer?

Depending on your age, ethnicity and family history, your doctor may recommend tests for prostate cancer such as:

  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. PSA is a molecule naturally made in the prostate gland, and there is always a small amount in your blood. By drawing a small amount of blood, specialists can process the sample to read your PSA levels. In general, higher than normal levels may indicate a prostate issue, such as enlargement, inflammation, infection or possibly cancer.
  • Digital rectal exam (DRE). During a DRE, a doctor physically examines your prostate. The process involves inserting a lubricated, gloved finger into your rectum, which is next to the prostate. Any anomalies found in the gland, such as an odd shape, texture or size, may need additional testing.

Mayo Clinic Healthcare will work with you to determine if screening is right for you and, if so, which options best suit your needs and preferences.

Learn more about prostate cancer at MayoClinic.org