Determining when the right time is to start getting prostate exams is a controversial subject in the medical community. Many health professionals will recommend that one wait as long as they can because they think the harm may outweigh any benefits of early testing. Others notice the extremely high-rates of prostate cancer diagnosis and recommend an early date. Who is right?
Well, that all could depend on many factors. If you are an average adult male with a normal risk level, 50 years old is the most commonly recommended age to begin exams. However, African Americans and those with a family history of prostate cancer are often encouraged to begin testing at 40 years old. African Americans present a unique risk set because their rates of prostate cancer are twice that of other races.
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for men in the United States, with hundreds of thousands a year diagnosed and tens of thousands passing from the disease. With this in mind, the American Cancer Society, breaking with other medical groups’ recommendations, has begun recommending 40 instead of 50. Beginning regular prostate exams is actually more complicated anyway, because there are more than one type of exam. Depending on your age you may be more suited for one, or another.
The most common form of prostate exam is called the Digital Rectal Exam or DRE. It sounds like it could be high-tech, but “digital” actually refers to the doctor’s finger or “digit” being inserted in the man’s rectum. The doctor will wear latex gloves and lubricate a finger before insertion and then feel around the prostate for irregularities. This is the form of prostate exam that is given to men starting at 40 years old generally.
The other common exam is called the Prostate Specific Antigen blood test or PSA. The PSA will actually detect sign of the cancer within the blood so it is seen as being more definitive. These are given from age 50 on in most cases. For African Americans and other high-risk populations, PSAs will often be given earlier.
Although prostate cancer is very common and can be deadly, it is usually a very slow growing cancer. Because of this, doctors will often recommend an end date for testing. 75 is a common age to end testing since if a tumor is discovered at that age it would likely take decades to run its course and the patient would likely have passed naturally. In these cases, it’s often best not to know.
So, when should men start getting prostate exams? The answer is clear. It depends. This decision should be made based on your specific circumstances and with direction from a urology expert. Schedule an appointment today and we’ll be happy to discuss you best path forward.