What to expect when you go for prostate cancer testing



Published Jun 6, 2024


MEN’S HEALTH issues deserve more attention, says Vanessa Snow, Head of Medical Affairs at Janssen South Africa. According to Snow, men face a higher risk of various health conditions compared to women.

“Men are less likely to visit the doctor than women. This often leads to late detection of preventable illnesses,” Snow said. Prostate cancer, in particular, boasts a nearly 100% recovery rate when detected early.

In South Africa, prostate cancer cases have surged by nearly 50% between 2007 and 2018. Snow said prostate cancer remains the most common cancer among men.

In 2018, the incidence rate rose to 68 cases per 100 000 people, up over 50% from 2007 figures. It also contributes to 13% of cancer-related deaths in men.

Initially, men may not experience symptoms of prostate cancer. It grows very slowly and can be benign or aggressive. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include frequent night-time urination, difficulty initiating or stopping urination, weak or interrupted flow, pain during urination or ejaculation and blood in urine or semen.

Advanced stages may cause deep pain in the lower back, hips, or thighs, Snow said.

70% of men encounter prostate cancer as they approach 70 years old. Picture: Mart Productions/Pexels

Ageing is a significant factor, with almost 70% of men encountering prostate cancer as they approach 70 years old.

Awareness and early intervention are key. “Men should prioritise regular check-ups to catch potential issues early.”

What to expect when you go for prostate cancer testing

Understanding what happens during prostate cancer testing can ease some common worries about procedures and possible pain.

Anxiety about tests and waiting for results is natural, but being informed can help reduce this stress. Knowing about these tests and what they involve can make the experience less daunting.

For prostate cancer screening, there are two main tests:

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test

This test checks the level of PSA in your blood; high levels might indicate prostate cancer.

Digital rectal exam (DRE)

In this exam, a doctor uses a gloved finger to feel the prostate for any abnormalities.

Understanding the PSA Blood Test for Prostate Cancer

During a PSA blood test, a small blood sample is taken from your arm. This test measures the level of PSA, a protein made by both cancerous and noncancerous tissue in the prostate.

High levels of PSA in the blood might suggest prostate cancer, but they can also be caused by other conditions like an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) or inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis).

If your PSA levels are elevated, your doctor may recommend further tests, such as an MRI or a biopsy, to get a clearer diagnosis.

What happens during a digital rectal exam (DRE)

During a digital rectal exam (DRE), the doctor gently inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland. This exam checks for any abnormalities, like lumps or hard areas, that might indicate cancer.

The exam usually takes only a few minutes. While it can be uncomfortable, it should not be painful. Relaxing as much as possible can help reduce any discomfort.

When to get screened

Age plays a big part in risk factors when it comes to prostate cancer. Generally, men of 50 years old and older should consider screening. Men at higher risk, including African American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer, may need to begin screening at age 40 to 45.

Interpreting results

If the blood work comes back normal results PSA and DRE are normal, and your doctor may recommend regular follow-ups at intervals based on your risk profile.

However, if both tests come back abnormal, it might necessitate additional tests such as a prostate biopsy or MRI to confirm the presence of cancer.

Having a support system from family, friends, or mental health professionals can provide comfort and alleviate stress during the screening process.

Prostate cancer screening is a critical step in men’s health, particularly for those at higher risk. While some discomfort is associated with these tests, it is minimal. Understanding what to expect can help reduce anxiety and ensure a smoother experience.

Prostate cancer can often be treated successfully, especially if it is detected early. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy. In some cases, a combination of treatments may be used.

“It is important for men to have regular engagement with their doctors about their risk of developing prostate cancer, and to discuss the benefits and risks of screening,” Snow said.

“A culture that supports regular health check-ups and open conversations about health concerns can significantly improve outcomes for men across the spectrum of diseases, particularly in conditions like prostate cancer where early detection is paramount,” she said.