According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men. Research shows that approximately 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their lives. The disease typically strikes men 65 and older. Because this type of cancer is so prevalent, it's important that men get screened when prostate issues develop. Here are some key frequently asked questions about cancer screening and testing.
What Is a Digital Rectal Exam?
When you are experiencing symptoms such as frequent or painful urination that indicate prostate problems, your doctor will likely perform a digital rectal exam (DRE). The doctor uses a gloved finger to feel your prostate. If the prostate is enlarged, this generally signals that you have a medical issue that needs further investigation. Although an enlarged prostate does not mean that you have cancer, it's a possibility that can't be ignored.
What Is the Prostate-Specific Antigen Test
The prostate-specific antigen test, or PSA test, shows the level of a certain protein that the prostate produces. If the level of this particular substance is high, it could be a sign that cancer is present. The test is very simple and non-invasive. Blood is drawn from the patient and the blood sample is then tested by a lab.
A normal PSA is 4 or less, according to WebMD. A test result that is higher than 4 may indicate the presence of cancer, although other causes of a higher than normal level are possible as well.
Will You Need a Biopsy?
If your healthcare provider decides that testing points to cancer perhaps being present, they are likely to schedule a prostate biopsy. This procedure involves taking a small piece of tissue from the prostate and testing it for cancerous cells. A prostate biopsy is typically done on an outpatient basis. You might or might not need a general anesthetic depending on the exact type of procedure that is done. The doctor may recommend that you start taking antibiotics before the biopsy and continue taking them afterward to prevent infection.
What Is a Gleason Score?
When a biopsy shows that cancer is present, the pathologist will give your tissue a Gleason Score. This is a scale that grades your cancer in a range of 6 to 10. Gleason Scores of 6 and 7 are low grades, 8 and 9 are intermediate grades, and 10 is a high grade. A higher Gleason Score means your cancer is more aggressive, while a lower score indicates that it will spread more slowly.
Contact your doctor to learn more about prostate cancer testing.