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Prostate Cancer Prevention and Screening

Prostate Cancer Screening

Cancer screening exams are important medical tests done when you’re at risk but don’t have symptoms. They help find cancer at its earliest stage, when the chances for successful treatment are highest.

Prostate cancer screening is a controversial topic. Screening tests include:

  • Digital rectal exam (DRE)
  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test

While screening detects prostate cancer earlier than waiting for symptoms to develop, only a small number of these cancers may be harmful or life threatening. The overall chance of being harmed by prostate cancer is difficult to predict, and it depends on a man’s age, health, and the grade or stage of the cancer. Since prostate cancer grows slowly, the risks of treatment may outweigh the advantages, especially in older men and men with other health problems.

Educate Yourself about Testing

Men older than 40 should educate themselves about the advantages and limitations of prostate cancer screening. Prostate cancer screening may lead to more invasive tests or treatment that may not be necessary. On the other hand, it may not detect some aggressive cancers in the early stages. Talk to your doctor about whether screening is right for you.

In general, prostate cancer screening should begin at age:

  • 50 for most men
  • 45 for African-American men or men with family histories (father, brother, son) of prostate cancer
  • Men older than 75 should consult their doctors about screening.

Screening has Limits

In many men, the PSA level slowly increases over time because of a condition called benign (non-cancerous) prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It may be difficult to differentiate between BPH and prostate cancer since both can cause a PSA elevation. Sometimes, the threat of prostate cancer is evaluated based on the speed at which PSA increases.

While PSA and DRE are the best available prostate cancer screening tools, they have limitations. Researchers are working to develop more advanced tools. If you have regular PSA screening, keep track of your PSA values in a file or spreadsheet. The PSA trend is an important factor in predicting cancer and this complete history of screening results will also be helpful if you change doctors.

If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, we’re here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Leading-edge prostate cancer treatments including vaccine, gene and proton therapy
  • Minimally invasive, nerve-sparing and sural nerve graft surgical procedures
  • Latest radiotherapy techniques for prostate cancer, including intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and brachytherapy
  • Team of experts provides personalized care for prostate cancer
  • Clinical trials of new therapies for prostate cancer
  • Prostate cancer is part of MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program: an ambitious effort to reduce cancer deaths through the rapid discovery and implementation of new treatments

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Prostate Cancer Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting prostate cancer is a risk factor. These include:

  • Age: This is the most important risk factor. Most men who develop prostate cancer are older than 50. About two of every three prostate cancers are diagnosed in men older than 65
  • Family history: Risk is higher when other members of your family (especially father, brother, son) have or had prostate cancer, especially if they were young when they developed it
  • Race: African-American men have nearly double the risk of prostate cancer as white men. It is found less often in Asian American, Hispanic and American Indian men
  • Diet: A high-fat diet, particularly a diet high in animal fats, may increase risk; diets high in fruits and vegetables may decrease risk
  • Nationality: Prostate cancer is more prevalent in North America and northwestern Europe than other parts of the world
  • Some research suggests that inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis) may play a role in prostate cancer. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are being investigated as possible risk factors as well.

Prostate Cancer Prevention

Certain actions may help lower your risk of prostate cancer:

  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and eat less red meat. Decrease fat intake.
  • Tell your doctor about supplements you take. Some of these may decrease the PSA level. A recent large study found that selenium and vitamin E, once thought to decrease risk of prostate cancer, have no effect.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain your ideal weight

Other ways to avoid prostate cancer are being investigated. These include:

  • Lycopenes: These substances found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon may help prevent damage to cells.
  • Proscar® (finasteride) or Avodart® (dutesteride): If you are at high risk for prostate cancer, talk to your urologist or other provider who is familiar with studies about these drugs

Research shows that many cancers can be prevented. Visit the Prevention section of our website to find out steps you can take to avoid cancer.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center