The Downside of Prostate Cancer Screening

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As we age, each new decade often brings with it a suggested health screening (or two) to be done sooner rather than later. For instance, it’s recommended that women 45 and older get a yearly mammogram to aid in the early detection of breast cancer. One of the tests you may have heard about and was once considered routine for men starting at age 50 is prostate cancer screening. Believe it or not, it’s actually now far from your standard “get this test at this particular age” type of exam. In fact, multiple research-based guidelines tend to dissuade most men from undergoing this screening due to its very real risks often outweighing its perceived benefits.

Is Prostate Cancer Screening Dangerous For Men?

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer for males (after lung cancer), but most of the men who are diagnosed with it do not end up dying from it. One of the characteristics of prostate cancer is that it’s usually very slow growing – sometimes so slow that change is nearly immeasurable over long periods of time. That statistic, coupled with the fact that the average age of men diagnosed with it is 66, play into the medical community’s collective reluctance to aggressively endorse screening for it.

There are two prevailing prostate cancer screening methods. One is the digital rectal exam (DRE) performed by a doctor or nurse, and the other is a blood analysis known as the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. In the DRE the health care provider uses a gloved finger to manually feel for any inconsistencies or lumps in the patient’s prostate. The blood test checks the patient’s PSA level, which would usually be elevated if the man had prostate cancer. The tricky part about that is a number of other factors, including race, previous medical procedures, and even medications can boost a man’s PSA levels.

When you combine its slow growth and advanced age demographic with the very real possibility of false positives on a screening, you can understand why many medical professionals caution men about undergoing unnecessary procedures with regards to prostate cancer.

If you have any questions at all regarding prostate health and the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening, you should consult with your primary care doctor or preferred local health care provider. He or she will be able to answer your questions and assist in making the decision that’s best suited for you.

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