Men, It’s Time for Real Talk about Prostate Health

Posted on by DCPC

Photo of Demetrius ParkerBy Demetrius M. Parker
Health Communication, Marketing and Media Strategist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Should men get screened for prostate cancer? Each man must decide for himself. That’s why it’s important to talk about screening (testing) with our doctor. While we may be a bit anxious about this conversation, we have to remember that there’s a great deal at stake—our families, our lifestyle and quality of life.

When we take care of our prostate health, we give ourselves the best chance to prevent and control prostate cancer. Research by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a group of health care experts, shows that men aged 55 to 69 benefit most from screening. Specifically, the USPSTF lists African American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer as higher risk groups. I’m in both of these groups. Are you, your relatives or friends in these high-risk groups? Let’s learn more about our options.

What Is Prostate Cancer Screening?

Cancer screening means getting checked for cancer before it can cause symptoms. The goal of screening for prostate cancer is to find cancer that may be at high risk for spreading if not treated, and to find it early before it spreads.

There is no standard test to screen for prostate cancer. One test that is commonly used to screen for prostate cancer is called a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. PSA is a substance your prostate makes. This test measures the level of PSA in our blood. If we have prostate cancer, our PSA level may be high. However, here’s the challenge. A high PSA level does not confirm that we have cancer. Our PSA level may also be high for other reasons. We should consider talking with our doctor to understand the possible benefits and harms of PSA testing. Then, we may decide whether to get the test.

Video: Should I get tested for prostate cancer?
This video helps men understand their prostate cancer screening options.

Benefits of PSA Testing

A PSA test may have several benefits. Knowing our PSA level can help our doctor determine our prostate cancer risk, and a very low PSA level can be encouraging. Finding prostate cancer early may make treatment easier, and even help save our life.

Harmful Effects of PSA Testing

PSA test results are not always the best measure of whether a man has prostate cancer. While it’s true that a high PSA level can be the first sign of prostate cancer, test results can also be a sign of something much less serious. The most common condition that could elevate PSA levels is an enlarged prostate (benign prostate hyperplasia or BPH). Other causes of high PSA levels include prostate inflammation/infection or trauma. Even ejaculation within 24 hours of the PSA test might cause someone with a borderline high PSA level to have a slightly elevated test result. Also, prostatitis, a swelling and inflammation of the prostate gland, is the most common prostate problem for men younger than 50. Bacteria causes prostatitis. Doctors treat it with antibiotics.

Become Aware of Our Body’s Physical Changes

With all these varying circumstances, it’s helpful for us to become aware of physical changes with our bodies—changes that may signal symptoms of prostate cancer. For example, we may experience difficulty starting urination, weak or interrupted flow of urine, and pain or burning during urination. Experts now recommend that men consider talking with their doctor about these changes.

A diverse group of older men sitting outdoors, having a conversation
Men aged 55 to 69 benefit most from prostate cancer screening. Talk to your doctor to find out if screening is right for you.

A Complicated Decision

Most men with prostate cancer are older than 65 years. Autopsy studies have found that the majority of men have some evidence of prostate cancer at death, even though they did not die from the disease. This is another reason to decide with our doctor about testing.

If a screening test finds a slow-growing cancer, some men may decide too early to get unnecessary cancer tests and treatments. Making matters worse, prostate cancer treatment can have serious side effects. We want to avoid unnecessary prostate cancer testing and the possible harmful effects.

For example, PSA testing could result in false positive test results. This occurs when a man has an abnormal PSA test but does not have prostate cancer. Men may then worry about their health.

Another consideration is that a positive PSA test might lead to decisions to have another test, a biopsy, to check to see if the PSA test is high because of prostate cancer. A biopsy involves removing a small piece of tissue from the prostate and looking at it under a microscope. A prostate biopsy can cause pain, blood in the semen or ejaculate, and infection.

Making the decision more complex, Canadian research showed that most prostate cancer screening did not actually help save the lives of men 55 to 74 years old. A European study showed that PSA testing contributed to a small decrease in deaths among men who are 55 to 69 years old. The test helped save 13 lives out of 10,000 tested. So, 9,987 men were tested unnecessarily.

With so many different points to think about and options to consider, it’s tough to make a decision to screen for prostate cancer or to wait and watch for symptoms. That’s why talking with our doctor is the key. Our physician can help us avoid unnecessary tests and treatments and make the choice that fits our life, our personal values, and individual circumstances.

Related Research

More Information

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7 comments on “Men, It’s Time for Real Talk about Prostate Health”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Thank you for a great article! My husband’s family history has some prostate cancer scares and diagnosis. His father has alarming numbers, and I tell him to keep an eye on it. Interestingly enough I read an article that mentions how having sex can lower the risk of prostate cancer. Thoughts?

    Sex may or may not reduce the incidence of prostate cancer a tiny amount, but the degree has not been measured. I am very sexually active and was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 73. I was even sexually active while castrate due to treatment for the cancer. Did being sexually active delay onset? Dunno.

    I was diagnosed with Stage 2b prostate cancer at age 73 and work with many men who are dealing with metastatic prostate cancer. They weren’t diagnosed and are living in pain. No, they haven’t died from the cancer yet, but they wish that something else would end their misery. I have seen two men die from prostate cancer just this year.

    The CDC should be aggressively promoting higher quality screening with imaging. As it is, many doctors are discouraged from even having that talk with their patients. Men should be aggressively supported with solid information (Prostate Cancer Research Institute for one) to let individuals make their own decisions.

    It’s good that you’re sharing how cancer screening refers to getting evaluated for the disease before any symptoms appear. For example, you said that prostate cancer screening aims to detect prostate cancer that may be at a high risk of spreading if left untreated and to do so early on before it does so. This reminds me of my uncle whose recent prostate cancer diagnosis has prompted him to delve into potential treatment options, and the persistent symptoms he’s experiencing, along with his doctor’s recommendation, are leading him to seriously consider prostate cancer surgery as a path toward better health and longevity. He just wants to gather more information and make an informed decision regarding this critical aspect of his medical journey.

    Its really an informative article regarding prostate cancer. Discussing the life style, physical body changes along with PSA levels with an urologist helps to analyse the possibility of prostate cancer in men.

    This article provides valuable insights into prostate cancer, including lifestyle factors, physical changes, and PSA levels. Consulting with a urologist can assist in assessing the risk of prostate cancer in men.

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Page last reviewed: Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Page last updated: Tuesday, June 23, 2020