No single exam or lab test can provide a complete picture of prostate health. Proper evaluation starts with a medical history of urinary tract symptoms and a review of family history for urinary tract problems.
Your doctor can check you for prostate cancer before you have any symptoms. Screening can help doctors find and treat cancer early. But studies so far have not shown that screening tests reduce the number of deaths from prostate cancer. You may want to talk with your doctor about the possible benefits and harms of being screened. The decision to be screened, like many other medical decisions, is a personal one. You should decide after learning the pros and cons of screening.
Your doctor can explain more about these tests:
- Digital rectal exam: This exam is performed by the examiner inserting a gloved finger into the rectum and feeling the prostate gland. This exam can detect prostate problems in the most common area where prostate cancer develops.
- Blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA): A blood test is done to check the level of PSA, a chemical produced by the prostate gland. The PSA level tends to go up in prostate enlargement or cancer or infection. The result of the test can be either normal or high. Based on the result, further examination, discussion, and/or testing may be done.
The digital rectal exam and PSA test can detect a problem in the prostate. They cannot show whether the problem is cancer or a less serious condition. Your doctor will use the results of these tests to help decide whether to check further for signs of cancer.
It is recommended that every man should have an annual rectal exam beginning at age 40.