Prostate cancer can often be found early by testing the amount of PSA (prostate-specific
antigen) in your blood. Another way prostate cancer is found early is when the doctor
does a digital rectal exam (DRE). Because the prostate gland lies just in front
of the rectum, during the exam the doctor can feel if there are any bumps or hard
places in the prostate. These might be cancer. If you have had routine yearly exams
and either one of these test results becomes abnormal, any cancer you might have
has probably been found at an early, more treatable stage.
The American Cancer Society believes that doctors should offer the PSA blood test
and DRE (digital rectal exam) yearly, beginning at age 50 to men who do not have
any major medical problems and can be expected to live at least 10 more years. Men
at high risk should begin testing at age 45. Men at high risk include African Americans
and men who have a close relative (father, brother, or son) who had prostate cancer
before age 65.
Men at even higher risk (because they have several close relatives with prostate
cancer at an early age) could begin testing at age 40. Depending on the results
of the first tests, they might not need more testing until
Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)
To do the DRE the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to
feel for any irregular or firm areas that might be cancer. The prostate gland is
next to the rectum, and most cancers begin in the part of the gland that can be
reached by a rectal exam. While it is uncomfortable, the exam isn’t painful and
takes only a short time.
The PSA Blood Test
PSA (prostate-specific antigen) is a substance made by the normal prostate gland.
Although PSA is mostly found in semen, a small amount is also found in the blood.
Most men have levels under 4 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter) of blood. Prostate
cancer can cause the level to go up. If
your level is between 4 and 10, you have about a 1 in 4 chance of having prostate
cancer. If it is above 10, your chance is over 50% and goes up as the PSA level
goes up. But some men with a PSA below 4 can also have prostate cancer.