November 2020 update: Beloved weather forecaster Al Roker announced on the Today show that he has prostate cancer. Roker says that while the cancer is aggressive, "good news is we caught it early."
In his announcement, Roker stressed how important it is for men, especially Black men, to see their doctor regularly. Prostate cancer, like many other cancers, doesn’t always cause symptoms in its earliest stages.
Screening can help identify the disease at an earlier stage when it is most treatable.
What's Involved in a Prostate Screening?
A prostate screening may include a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and/or a digital rectal examination.
Prostate Specific Antigen Test (PSA)
This blood test measures the amount of a protein, prostate specific antigen, in your blood. Both normal and cancerous cells produce this protein. High levels could be a sign that you have prostate cancer.
If your PSA level is higher than normal, your doctor may recommend other tests, including:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Digital Rectal Examination (DRE)
During this exam, your doctor inserts a gloved finger in the rectum and checks if the prostate gland has any hard, lumpy, or abnormal areas.
Prostate screenings offer a simple way to diagnose prostate cancer even if you have no symptoms. But there are some drawbacks. That’s why it’s best to talk with your doctor about whether prostate screening is right for you.
Prostate Screening Pros and Cons
If you're at a higher risk, you may need to begin screening at a younger age than 50. Such risks include family history of prostate cancer or being African-American. Experts don't recommend prostate cancer screenings for men 70 and older.
Prostate screenings are somewhat controversial because they don’t always produce accurate information about your prostate cancer risk. False positives can occur, resulting in unnecessary treatment or tests. Higher-than-normal PSA levels may be because of:
- Prostate inflammation
- Benign prostate enlargement
- Some medications
- Other factors
False negatives are also a possibility. That’s why it is best to discuss prostate screening with your doctor so you can carefully weigh the pros and cons.
Know the Symptoms?
Prostate cancer symptoms can include problems urinating, lower back pain and stiffness, and more.
How Serious is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men after skin cancer. And it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men after lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Prostate cancer is serious. But many men live with a slow-growing form of this cancer for years and eventually die of unrelated causes.
Prostate cancer treatment may prolong your life. But it also may cause unpleasant side effects, including
- Erectile dysfunction
- Bowel problems.
Since many prostate cancers are slow-growing, you and your doctor will need to consider the possible benefits and drawbacks of treatment. This may factor into your decision around whether or not regular prostate screening is right for you.
Lowering Your Prostate Cancer Risk
Taking a few steps to improve your overall health can also help you reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer. A low-fat diet may lower your cancer risk. That can include:
- Whole grains
- Fruits and vegetables
- Healthy fats
- Lean meats
Regular exercise, quitting smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation and maintaining a healthy weight may also decrease the likelihood that you’ll develop prostate or other forms of cancer.
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