Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer in men, trailing skin cancer. It’s also the second leading cause of cancer death in U.S. men, behind lung cancer.
The American Cancer Society estimates that one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. While it is a serious disease, men generally do not die from prostate cancer
Prostate cancer can be cured or controlled when it’s found and treated early.
Nearly all men diagnosed with prostate cancer survive at least five years; 98% survive at least 10 years; and 96% survive at least 15 years.
If you have a family history of prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about screening at age 45.
Starting at age 50, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of testing and decide if testing is right for you.
Prostate Cancer Risk Factors
Several factors can increase a person's risk of developing prostate cancer. These include:
- Age – Prostate cancer is rare in men under 40, but the risk increases significantly with age. The majority of prostate cancer cases occur in men over the age of 65.
- Family history – Having a close blood relative, such as a father or brother, with prostate cancer increases your risk. The risk is higher if the affected family member was diagnosed at a younger age or if multiple relatives are affected.
- Ethnicity – Prostate cancer is more common in certain ethnic groups. For example, Black men have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer than men of other races. Asian and Hispanic men have a lower risk compared to Caucasian men.
- Genetics – Inherited gene mutations, such as mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, are associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.
- Diet – A diet high in red and processed meats and low in fruits and vegetables may increase your risk of prostate cancer.
- Obesity – Being overweight or obese has been linked to a higher risk of developing aggressive forms of prostate cancer.
- Exposure to certain chemicals – Occupational exposure to certain chemicals, like cadmium or Agent Orange, may increase your risk of prostate cancer.
Having one or more of these risk factors does not guarantee that you will develop prostate cancer. Likewise, the absence of these risk factors does not guarantee that you will not develop the disease.
Together, you and your primary care provider can help assess your risk. You can then determine appropriate preventive measures or early detection strategies.
There are several methods used to test for prostate cancer. The two most common tests are:
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test – This test measures the levels of PSA, a protein produced by the prostate gland, in the blood. Elevated PSA levels can indicate the presence of prostate cancer. However, levels can also be elevated due to other non-cancerous conditions like prostate enlargement or infection. If PSA levels are high, further testing is usually recommended.
- Digital rectal examination – A digital rectal exam is often performed with the PSA screening.
If the results of the PSA test or digital rectal exam are abnormal or suspicious, further diagnostic tests may be recommended.
- Prostate biopsy – A biopsy involves the removal of small tissue samples from the prostate gland for laboratory analysis. It is usually performed using ultrasound guidance. The biopsy samples are examined under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present.
- Imaging tests – Imaging tests such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) may be used to visualize the prostate gland and surrounding tissues. These tests help evaluate the size, location and extent of any tumors, and can assist in determining the appropriate treatment approach.
What to Expect During a Digital Rectal Exam
A digital rectal exam is performed during a routine doctor’s visit and only takes a few seconds.
Your prostate gland is located below the bladder near the entrance of the rectum.
Your health care provider will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to feel the prostate gland. They check for any abnormalities, such as lumps or hard areas, which could suggest the presence of prostate cancer. The procedure is painless and only lasts a few seconds.
Experts disagree on whether all men should be screened and how frequently. Most screening recommendations are based on risk levels and age. To assess your risk, talk to your primary care provider.