Did you know that prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer for men in Canada? One in eight men will develop this disease during their lifetime. Good news though: this type of tumor can be detected early thanks to two screening tests.
Digital rectal examination
DRE is usually the first method used to detect prostate cancer. Performed by a doctor, this physical examination of the prostate by the rectum is very simple and causes little discomfort. After inserting a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum, the doctor palpates the prostate, through the rectal wall, to detect masses or other abnormalities that may suggest the presence of cancer. Although this test is not perfect (especially because it does not allow to feel the whole prostate), it is still useful because it allows to check the area where most cancers of the prostate develop. In addition, this examination can sometimes detect cancer even when the blood test value of prostate specific antigen (PSA) is considered normal.
The APS test
Another way to screen for prostate cancer is to measure the prostate specific antigen (PSA) level, a protein that is secreted by prostate cells. This is a simple blood test that does not require any special preparation. When the PSA level is high, this may indicate the presence of cancer, hence the interest of this test. That said, the PSA test is not specific to cancer. A high score may also indicate other prostate problems such as an enlarged prostate, called benign prostatic hypertrophy , or an inflammation of the prostate called prostatitis. Men with prostate cancer may also have normal PSA levels.
Note that these two tests are often combined to increase the accuracy of screening. Be aware, however, that none of these tests can confirm or deny a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Other tests such as transrectal ultrasound and prostate biopsy are needed to establish the diagnosis.
For any questions, do not hesitate to talk to your pharmacist.
SHOULD ALL MEN BE SCREENED?
In general, experts recommend that men 50 years and older talk to their doctor about the benefits of being tested for prostate cancer. Although digital rectal examination and PSA testing can detect this cancer at an early stage, these tests can also lead to false alarms and even unnecessary testing and treatment. It is therefore best to discuss with your doctor your personal risk of developing prostate cancer, as well as the benefits and limitations associated with these tests. Be aware, however, that men at high risk due to a family history of prostate cancer, as well as men of African descent, should check with their doctor if they should be tested earlier.