Everything to Know About Getting a PSA Screening

The Importance of Getting a PSA Screening

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer among men. In fact, 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime.

Although there’s no denying this is an alarming statistic, the good news is that prostate cancer is a slow-growing disease that’s typically curable when it’s discovered in the early stages. Therefore, screening for prostate cancer and understanding the importance of getting a PSA test are both crucial in order to treat this disease successfully. 

As urology specialists, we’re here to share insight on the PSA screening process. Keep reading to learn the significant difference screening can have in reducing your risk of developing prostate cancer and catching the disease as early as possible.

Prostate Cancer 101

The prostate is a small, walnut-sized gland that sits below the bladder and produces ejaculatory fluid that aids in reproduction. When prostate cells become damaged and begin to divide uncontrollably, prostate cancer occurs.

Second to skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. However, this type of cancer can be difficult to catch because there are typically no symptoms in the very early stages. In more advanced cases, some common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty urinating or a complete inability to urinate
  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Abdominal, pelvic, hip, or back pain
  • Loss of appetite and weight

What to Expect During a PSA Screening

It is crucial for men to have their prostate and PSA levels routinely checked in order to screen for prostate cancer. Here’s what to expect during a prostate exam and PSA screening. 

Step 1: Prostate Exam

The first step in the screening process for prostate cancer is typically a prostate exam. During this exam, your doctor will lubricate a gloved finger and gently insert it in your rectum to look for any abnormalities, such as an enlarged or inflamed prostate. Although you may experience momentary discomfort, a prostate exam is quick and relatively painless. After the exam, your doctor will be able to tell you if your prostate is a normal size and shape.

Step 2: PSA Test

The next step to screening for prostate cancer is to conduct a prostate-specific antigen, or PSA test. PSA is a protein that is produced by both cancerous and noncancerous cells of the prostate gland. A small amount of this protein in the male bloodstream is normal, as it assists in the process of liquefying semen. 

During a PSA test, your urologist will measure the level of PSA in your blood and send a small sample to a laboratory for analysis. Typically, very little PSA is found in the bloodstream. A normal amount of PSA is less than four nanograms per milliliter of blood. Generally, the higher your PSA level, the higher your chances are of developing prostate cancer. If your PSA level is high, then your urologist will likely suggest a prostate biopsy to further test for cancer. 

The Importance of PSA Screening

During the early stages of prostate cancer, you may have no signs or symptoms at all. Therefore, in order to catch prostate cancer as early as possible, PSA screenings and annual checkups with your urologist are extremely important.

PSA screening helps detect prostate cancer early on, when it’s easier to treat and more likely to be cured. In some cases, identifying prostate cancer early also means less aggressive treatment will be needed. Like any other type of cancer, it is imperative to detect prostate cancer before it becomes life-threatening or causes additional side effects, such as erectile dysfunction and incontinence

If your PSA screening does detect prostate cancer, you’ll have more time to make effective treatment decisions and choose the option that’s best for you. This will help you feel in control of your health and more empowered about the choices that you’ll make. You will be able to take time to speak with your doctor and make the best decision regarding your treatment plan for prostate cancer. 

Related: Why Prostate-Specific Antigen Testing Matters

Who Should Get a PSA Screening

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends PSA screening for all men aged 45 to 75 years old. In men with increased risk, such as African Americans, or those with a family history, they recommend PSA screening starting at age 40.

Although the exact cause of prostate cancer is difficult to determine, there are several factors that may affect your chances of developing the disease. Below are the most common risk factors for developing prostate cancer. If any of these apply to you, then we recommend getting a PSA test.

  • Age: Your risk of developing prostate cancer increases as you age. Studies show that only 1 in 10,000 men under the age of 40 will develop prostate cancer. However, approximately 6 in 10 cases are found in men 65 and older.
  • Race: Studies show that Asian American and Latino men have the lowest chances of developing prostate cancer. Meanwhile, African American men are 79% more likely to develop the condition compared to other races and ethnicities.
  • Family history: Your genes may play a role in whether or not you are at risk of developing prostate cancer. If you have a family history of prostate cancer, especially a direct relative such as a father or brother, then your risk is higher.

Schedule a PSA Screening With One of Our Urologists

Early detection of prostate cancer is crucial in order to treat this disease successfully. Because your risk increases as you age, it’s important to discuss prostate cancer screening options with your doctor sooner rather than later. 

If you are interested in having a PSA screening or would like to learn more about maintaining optimal urology health as a man, please contact one of our urology specialists. Click the button below to make an appointment at one of our locations. We will be happy to speak with you!

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This content was originally published in September 2016 and was refreshed in June 2021.