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Should I Get Screened for Prostate Cancer? Pros and Cons of Early Detection

Medically reviewed by Christina Chun, MPH on October 30, 2017Written by Valencia Higuera on October 30, 2017
should I get screened

Prostate cancer screening can detect cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body. Screening involves a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. This is a protein created by the prostate gland. An elevated level of this protein could be a sign of prostate cancer.

Early screening and detection can help you get ahead of the disease. But screening isn’t recommended for everyone. The decision to get screened is yours.

Before undergoing screening, talk with your doctor. Make sure you understand the pros and cons of early detection.

Pros of prostate cancer early detection

Prostate cancer screening can begin as early as age 40, although some doctors don’t recommend screening until much later. One benefit of screening is the opportunity to detect prostate cancer early. If you’re able to treat the disease before it spreads or grows, this can extend your life. It can also reduce life-threatening complications.

Cancer is a complex disease. When cancer cells grow and spread to other parts of your body, this makes it difficult to treat the disease. Early detection and treatment is a way to fight the disease when tumors are small and localized within the prostate gland.

Cons of prostate cancer early detection

Prostate cancer screening can diagnose the disease early. In some cases, however, screening may cause more harm than good. Cancer is a serious condition, but some instances of prostate cancer are slow-growing. This is when the cancer is small and hasn’t spread beyond the prostate gland. The cancer may never spread, or it may not cause problems for several years.

If you have slow-growing prostate cancer, getting screened and starting treatment could mean putting your body through unnecessary stress. Plus, you may end up dealing with the side effects of cancer treatment. Side effects associated with treatment include anemia, weight loss, fatigue, urinary problems, erectile dysfunction, and bowel dysfunction.

Prostate cancer screening is recommended for certain men. But screening results aren’t always reliable. Some men may have elevated levels of PSA, but not have cancer. Other factors such as an enlarged or inflamed prostate can cause elevated PSA levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, only one in four men who have an abnormal PSA test result actually have prostate cancer.

Learning of an abnormal PSA level can invoke fear and anxiety in those who don’t have the disease.

Should you get screened?

PSA testing is the first step in diagnosing the disease. If your protein levels are abnormal, your doctor may follow up with a digital rectal examination. This exam checks for masses or bumps. The next step is a prostate gland biopsy, if necessary.

Even though prostate cancer screenings can result in false positives and trigger anxiety, there are reasons to consider early detection.

Your doctor may recommend early screening if you have one or more risk factors for the disease. Prostate cancer risk increases with age. Your risk increases after age 50, so screenings may begin at this time. Screenings before the age of 50 aren’t recommended unless you have a family history of the disease. This includes a close family member (father, brother, or uncle) who received a diagnosis before age 65.

Other risk factors for prostate cancer include:

  • being African-American
  • being obese
  • eating a high-fat diet

Recognize the symptoms of prostate cancer

If you don’t have risk factors for the disease and you choose to skip early screenings, it’s important to recognize possible symptoms of prostate cancer. The earlier you mention symptoms to your doctor, the better. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend screening to confirm or rule out the disease. Symptoms include:

  • blood in your urine
  • erectile dysfunction
  • pain in your back, hips, or chest
  • frequent urination
  • leg swelling or weakness

Other conditions can cause similar symptoms, so having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have prostate cancer.

If you’re diagnosed, your doctor will determine the best treatment based on your cancer stage and the location of tumors.

Treatment may include radiation, surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or hormone therapy. Surgery can remove cancerous cells from the body, whereas chemotherapy and radiation help kill or shrink cancer cells. Immunotherapy helps boost your immune system so your body can fight the disease. Hormone therapy stops testosterone from feeding cancer cells.

Outlook

Prostate cancer is a serious disease, but early screening is an option. If you’re young and don’t have any risk factors or symptoms, early screenings could result in a false positive and cause unnecessary anxiety.

Speak with your doctor to determine the right time to begin cancer screenings. Your doctor may recommend screenings beginning at age 40 or later.

Regardless of the recommendation, learn how to recognize signs of prostate cancer and see a doctor if you develop any symptoms.

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