September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Lake Regional Urologist Eric McQueary, D.O., is encouraging men to talk with their doctors about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening.
After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men. It kills more than 200,000 men in the United States every year.
Cancer screening is used to look for disease before patients notice problems. The idea is to catch the cancer early, when it’s easiest to treat. For prostate cancer, an important screening is the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test.
“A high PSA level in the blood can be a sign of prostate cancer,” Dr. McQueary said. “So a simple blood test can find prostate cancer early and give men a better chance of survival.”
But the test isn’t perfect. Other conditions besides cancer can increase PSA levels. As a result, the test might suggest cancer when no cancer is present. And sometimes, it finds cancers that would never develop into a real threat.
“Many men who have prostate cancer will never have problems from the cancer,” Dr. McQueary said. “For these men, treatment offers no benefit while putting them at risk for serious harms, including incontinence and erectile dysfunction. The risks of overtreatment need to be considered along with the benefits of screening.”
Looking at the pros and cons, experts have not been able to say whether PSA testing is something all men should do. Instead, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends that every man between the ages of 55 and 69 consider the benefits and risks with his doctor and make a decision based on his individual situation. Screening is not recommended for men 70 years old and older.
“Many men who talk with their doctors decide they want the screening, and these men should receive it,” Dr. McQueary said. “Having learned about the pros and cons, they have a better understanding of what the results mean and are better prepared to choose their next step.”
Basics of Prostate Cancer Screening
The PSA test is one screening test for prostate cancer. It can be abnormal for several reasons besides prostate cancer.
The only way to know if an abnormal test is due to cancer is to do a biopsy.
A biopsy is a minor surgery to get small pieces of the prostate to look at under a microscope.
If the biopsy shows there are cancer cells, then your doctor will discuss treatment options.
Treatment of prostate cancer may include:
- close monitoring and follow-up visits
- surgery to remove the prostate
Questions Men Can Ask Their Doctors about Prostate Cancer
- Am I at greater risk for prostate cancer?
- At what age should I start to think about screening for prostate cancer?
- If I get my blood test and it is not normal, what other things could I have besides prostate cancer?
- What is a biopsy, and how is it done?
- What are the side effects or risks of a biopsy?
- If my biopsy shows some cancer cells, what does that mean?
- What are the side effects or risks of each treatment (close monitoring with follow-up appointments; radiation; or surgery to remove the prostate)?