What men should know about prostate cancer screening

Published: Friday, January 13, 2023

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the United States, but it’s also one of the least commonly talked about. Prostate cancer screening can make a difference.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of American men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates that 268,490 men were diagnosed with this type of cancer in 2022 alone. That includes more than 9,000 men in the state of Georgia.

There is some good news, though. While this type of cancer is incredibly common, it’s also slow to spread. It can often be caught in an early stage through screenings, before it worsens and spreads.

Should you be screened for prostate cancer? That’s ultimately a conversation to have with your medical provider, but read on as we share some important info.

The History of Prostate Cancer Screening

Prostate cancer screening first began in the early 1990s through prostate-specific antigen testing, also called PSA testing.

This test looks at prostate-specific antigen, which is a protein produced in the cells of the prostate gland. This protein is involved in the liquefaction of semen after ejaculation.

Once the PSA test was approved by the FDA in 1986, it was recommended for men ages 50 and older—and there was an immediate improvement in prostate cancer detection.

While the use of PSA testing alongside digital rectal exams resulted in increased diagnosis of prostate cancer, it also led to an increase in the overdiagnosis and overtreatment of low-risk prostate cancer. Because prostate cancer is slow-growing, many cases of this type of cancer will never spread or cause significant health issues. Treating cancer in those cases may worsen quality of life without positively impacting health.

As a result of this, in 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force downgraded prostate cancer screening, recommending against it. That change in recommendations was followed by a decrease in the number of men being screened for prostate cancer and an increase in the number of advanced-stage prostate cancer cases being diagnosed.

What’s Recommended Now for Prostate Cancer Screening

In 2017, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force again changed its recommendation on prostate cancer screening. They now grade PSA testing as a “C” for men between the ages of 55 and 69.

Specifically, the guidelines say, “the decision to undergo periodic prostate-specific antigen [PSA]-based screening for prostate cancer should be an individual one. Before deciding whether to be screened, men should have an opportunity to discuss the potential benefits and harms of screening with their clinician and to incorporate their values and preferences in the decision. Screening offers a small potential benefit of reducing the chance of death from prostate cancer in some men.”

The American Urologic Association recommends prostate cancer screening for men ages 55 to 69 who are at average risk of developing prostate cancer. Those at a higher risk, including men with a family history of prostate cancer, those with a family history of certain other cancers, and African American or Black men, may need to begin screening at an earlier age.

What This Means for You

The information about prostate cancer screening can feel a little overwhelming! But the bottom line is: Talk with your medical provider about whether you should be screened or not.

Your doctor can help you make an informed decision based on a number of factors, including your personal health, your lifestyle, your risk factors, and your family medical history. Using that information, your medical provider may recommend you have PSA testing each year or every other year. PSA testing is usually done along with a digital rectal exam, which checks the prostate manually for any abnormalities.

It’s also important to know that an elevated PSA level is not always the result of cancer. If your levels are high, talk with your doctor about potential causes and how to move forward. The best approach is one that’s personalized for your needs and your situation.

“It is important to remember that while prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death in American men, only 3% of all men with prostate cancer die from prostate cancer,” says David Stanley, MD, FACS, urologist with Northeast Georgia Health System. “The five-year relative survival rate for localized prostate cancer is >99%. Prostate cancer screening does save lives.”

Learn More

Whether you need to be screened for prostate cancer or are looking for experts in treating the condition, specialists at North Georgia Medical Center are here to help. Call 770-219-8765 more information or to connect with a patient navigator.