What Happens During a Screening for Prostate Cancer?
If you and your doctor decide you should be screened, you'll probably have one or both of these tests.
Digital rectal exam (DRE). For a DRE, you bend over and your doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum. Your prostate is next to your rectum. The goal is to feel for areas along the back of the prostate gland that might be cancer. The exam is uncomfortable, but not painful. It takes only a short time, and it can be done in your doctor's office. Only a small number of prostate cancers are found this way. If your doctor feels anything abnormal, you may need more tests. These may include an ultrasound, biopsy, or both.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. A PSA test measures a protein made by prostate cells called PSA. Your PSA level is typically high if you have prostate cancer. Most prostate cancers are found with this test. Doctors report the test results as ng/mL, which stands for nanograms per milliliter. If you are about age 65 and if your results are less than 4 ng/mL, your prostate is most likely normal. If your results are between 4 and 10, you have about a 25 percent chance of having prostate cancer. Your chance of having the disease is higher if your results are higher than 10. However, the test is not perfect--you can have a high PSA level without necessarily having prostate cancer, or a low PSA and still have prostate cancer. Outside factors can also affect your PSA level and test results. To get the most accurate results possible, follow this advice.
Tell your doctor if you're taking the medications Proscar (finasteride), Propecia (finasteride), or Avodart (dutasteride). These are used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is the overgrowth of normal prostate cells, but it's not cancer. In BPH, your prostate grows larger and pushes against your urethra and bladder. Propecia can also be used to treat baldness. These medicines may artificially lower your PSA level, which the doctor may need to adjust for.
If your results aren't normal for either test, your doctor will talk with you about your need for other tests.