Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men (after skin cancer), according to the American Cancer Society. It is the second most common cause of death in following lung cancer and causes nearly 30,000 deaths annually in the United States. The good news is that often prostate cancer can be treated successfully, especially when caught in its early stages. More than 2 million men in America count themselves as prostate cancer survivors, according to the American Cancer Society.
At the present time screening for prostate cancer is controversial in the medical profession. There are physicians who believe that testing all men for prostate cancer outweighs the benefit because it may find some very slow growing cancers in some men that could be left alone without any negative consequences. My personal opinion is that prostate cancer screening should be done but requires education and a decision made between doctor and patient.
My belief is that if prostate cancer is detected early, it has a favorable prognosis. If men ask me what are the early signs of prostate cancer, the answer is that there are NO early signs of prostate cancer when it is confined to the prostate gland. That is why men need to have an examination or the digital rectal examination and a PSA test.
Risk factors help determine who should be screened when
The protocol starts by evaluating men for their risk factors for developing prostate cancer. Risk factors include: age (after age 50 risk of prostate cancer rises rapidly); race (men of African-American and Caribbean descent are at higher risk); and family history (men who have a father, brother, or uncle with prostate cancer are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer and should be screened on a regular basis) Men should be screened every year until they reach age 70 or 75. For most men who reach age 70 and all their screening tests are normal, the chances of their developing a cancer that would impact their well-being or their longevity is really low.
Managing the elevated PSA test
If your screening detects a possible cancer, your doctor will order a biopsy. This is done in the office under a local anesthesia and takes 10-15 minutes. If the biopsy detects prostate cancer, then the next step is to determine the aggressiveness of the cancer or how likely it is to spread or grow. For men with low-risk tumors that are not going to put their health or longevity at risk, I will often recommend surveillance, which means regular testing of the PSA and a follow up biopsy in 12-18 months. As long as the PSA remains stable and there is no evidence of escalation of the cancer, then these men can be safely followed and only treated if the cancer appears to be growing or the PSA is steadily increasing. Men with more aggressive tumors may need surgery and\or radiation. You and your doctor will make the best treatment decisions for you together.
Bottom Line: Prostate cancer is a common cancer and can easily be diagnosed with prostate cancer screening. Not all men need to be screened, but if you are between 50 and 70 years of age, speak to your doctor about the benefits of screening and make an informed decision if screening is right for you.