Prostate Cancer

19 September, 2020

Screening is a test or a group of tests done to detect cancer in people before they start showing signs and symptoms. In several cancer types, including prostate cancer, screening is a great way to detect cancer at an early stage. This helps in increasing the chances of a successful prostate cancer treatment. However, before you even think about screening, you should contact a specialist to find out whether you need to undergo screening or not. A very important consideration for screening is that it is done on individuals that are more likely to develop the disease at a later stage in their lives. This could be due to their genetics, lifestyle, or other factors.

So what are the different screening tests available to detect prostate cancer early? There are two – prostate-specific antigen or PSA and digital rectal exam or DRE. If any of these tests provide abnormal results, further testing like a prostate biopsy is done for confirmation. Both these tests are different in how they are done, their accuracy, and the information they reveal. Let us discuss both of these in a little detail.

PSA screening

This screening is done to check prostate-specific antigen levels present in the blood. After a certain age, your doctor whom you visit for routine testing will likely add this test along with all the other tests to test the health of your prostate gland. This is because prostate cancer is more common in men who have reached a certain age. This test, if done more frequently, will provide your doctor with important information over a period of time. It is also important to know that several cases of prostate cancer don’t even need treatment. They grow extremely slowly and are thus not a cause for any concern. However, if your PSA levels have increased from the last time, you need to contact a cancer specialist even if the levels still fall in the normal range.

DRE screening

A digital rectal exam is another type of screening that is routinely done on people who show no signs and symptoms of prostate cancer. This test provides your doctor with a clear idea about the condition of your prostate gland – if its shape is irregular, it is larger than normal, or its size has increased from the last time. In any of these cases, you will be required to undergo further testing for confirmation.


Prostate cancer risk factors

  • Family history
  • Age 50 years or more
  • Genetic changes
  • Poor eating habits

How accurate are these screening tests?

Let’s set the record straight, neither of these screening tests, DRE or PSA, are 100% accurate. Even these tests are exposed to the false-positive result that is a common error with a lot of other screening tests as well. So these tests could set alarm bells ringing even when an individual doesn’t have cancer. On the other hand, they can also provide false-negative results. They won’t detect cancer in people who have cancer. Inaccurate and wring results can lead to confusion. They can also have doctors starting treatment that the patient doesn’t need. So in the case of false-positive results, people may have to undergo prostate biopsies that are accompanied by small risks of bleeding, pain, and infection. On the other hand, false-negative results can cause individuals who have cancer to become complacent.

While it is important to detect prostate cancer early to make the treatment process easy, false detection can sometimes lead to more problems. So what happens with screening is that even if it rightly detects cancer, it won’t tell doctors if it is dangerous or not or whether it needs to be treated or not. Treating any cancer starting early always makes sense. However, some prostate cancer symptoms don’t cause people any problem throughout their lives. So treating them itself causes more pain and problems.

Screening also leads to overdiagnosis in some cases. It detects a disease that some people wouldn’t have found out about ever in their lives. It wouldn’t have caused them any problems or showed any symptoms. This is what you call overdiagnosis. You detect a disease that’s going to least affect an individual’s life.


So what we can conclude from this discussion is that screening is important but you don’t have to trust the results completely. Contact a cancer specialist and see what they suggest.

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