What Is a Prostate Exam?

Last Updated: 18.09.19

 

A prostate exam is a regular screening that determines if there is any risk of developing prostate cancer, and it consists of two different tests, namely the prostate-specific antigen test (also known as the PSA test) and the digital rectal exam (DRE). You can find out more info here on how to sustain your prostate’s health, but having regulars screenings could save your life. 

We never really want to think about health issues, especially when life has so many nice things to offer instead, such as a great time with our friends and families. On the other hand, it’s crucial to take the necessary steps to remain healthy in order to spend as much time with our loved ones.

With this being said, in this article, we’re going to discuss the matter of prostate exams since issues with this gland are affecting a large part of the male population. In fact, prostate cancer is, according to data, the second leading cause of cancer-related death for men in the United States, the one first one being lung cancer. 

As you can see, this is a serious issue that needs to be taken into account, especially by men over 50. The good news is that if it’s identified in an early stage, prostate cancer is also curable, so you shouldn’t worry, but you should take the necessary steps to prevent a more serious situation, and the first thing you need to do is to take regular prostate exams. 

The American Cancer Society tells us that 1 in 7 men can have a prostate cancer diagnosis during their lifetime, so as you can see, the data is not very happy, but there are many alternatives that you can take to remain healthy. Prostate exams are currently the best way to discover this condition and reduce the number of deaths associated with it. 

 

A bit about prostate exams and who should have them 

These are simple screenings meant to look for early signs that might indicate if a disease is present. The sooner a serious condition is discovered, the higher the chances to have it completely cured and ideally to get this done in a less-invasive way. Doctors say that men over the age of 50 should have at least an informed discussion with a specialist about screenings. 

Furthermore, men over 50 are also advised to have such a prostate exam at least once a year. There are also some categories of men who are advised to have discussions about prostate cancer screenings, and one of these is that of men over 50 who are at average risk of developing the condition and have a life expectancy of at least 10 more years.

The second group of men advised to investigate the matter consists of those around the age of 45 who have a high risk of dealing with this type of cancer, including African-Americans who have a case within their families. Research has shown that there is a correlation between cases within the family and the chances of having newer generations develop the same condition. 

Men aged 40 with more than one first-degree relative who had this condition also form a group that should do regular check-ups. 

 

 

The available tests 

If you are not familiar with the procedure, the first thing you should know is that two main tests are commonly used in order to screen for prostate cancer. These are the prostate-specific antigen test (PSA) and the digital rectal exam (DRE). The second thing you need to be aware of is that neither one can confirm that prostate cancer is present. 

What these tests do is reveal strong signs that an individual has a prostate-related health problem and that further testing should be done, such as a prostate biopsy. Those who want to be screened should get this done using the PSA blood test. If a man agrees to the second type of test, then a DRE is usually conducted as part of the screening process as well. 

For the PSA test, a blood sample is used to determine the level of PSA in the blood, this being a protein produced by the prostate. The DRE is different in that a doctor inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into the patient’s rectum to check the size of the gland and see if any abnormalities are present. 

While this might not sound that great, it’s very important to make sure that everything is ok, especially since the prostate is a very important part of the male body, and issues around it might bring urinary or sexual dysfunctions as well, thus affecting a person’s quality of life on multiple levels. 

 

DRE

Before having a DRE, you should discuss every aspect related to it with your doctor, as it’s important to understand what will happen during the exam, how long it will take, how accurate its results are and when they are to be expected, as well as what other tests might be necessary in case the results indicate that cancer might be present.

Individuals who are getting ready for this exam should also inform the healthcare provider of any anal fissures or hemorrhoids, if these conditions are present, given that the DRE might make them worse. Any patient should also get information on whether the costs are covered through health insurance or if there are any other additional charges. 

Once you are ready to have the exam, you should know that it’s generally pain-free and that it only takes a couple of minutes. The specialist will inspect the area and determine whether the prostate’s size is normal, and then he or she will feel for any bumps, hard or soft spots, or any other abnormalities. 

Research indicates that prostate cancers oftentimes begin on the back of the gland, and this area can be examined during a rectal exam. In case the prostate is enlarged, the patient might experience some discomfort or mild pain during this process. 

Once the exam is over, most men are able to simply go back to their regular activities immediately. In rare cases, the patient might experience some bleeding from the rectum, especially if hemorrhoids or anal fissures are present as well. In case the bleeding persists or it’s abundant, the healthcare provider should be contacted to seek the right solution. 

If any areas of concern are noticed during the DRE, additional tests might be necessary in order to determine what is going on and what the following steps that need to be taken are. 

 

 

PSA test

The PSA differs from a DRE, and there are several conditions that should be met by the patient to get accurate results. No urinary tract infections should be present when the test is being done, and the patient must not have exercised heavily or ejaculated in the previous 48 hours. 

Along the same lines, a prostate biopsy should not have been done in the previous 6 weeks before the test. All of these factors can raise the PSA level, which is a protein produced by the prostate. It’s good to know that a high PSA level can sometimes simply be the result of increased activity or tension, given that exercising, working, or traveling can have this effect. 

 

Why is it important to get a prostate screening?

You might wonder why it’s important to get such a screening but, as we’ve already discussed, prostate cancer has a rather high incidence and if it’s discovered in the early stages, the chances of getting it completely treated are very good. 

On the other hand, doctors also say that men are necessarily health-seekers. They might go see their doctor in case a certain dysfunction affects their lifestyle, such as erectile or urinary issues, but unfortunately, they tend to delay or many times skip altogether the screening testing. 

However, every man should be aware that prostate cancer is asymptomatic, which means that if regular screenings are neglected, the disease might be discovered in more advanced stages, which means that there are fewer treatment options. The truth is that screening is the only way to determine if prostate cancer has developed from a very early stage. 

If the annual check-up is neglected the outcome can be much worse and when you really think about it, it’s really a choice between spending a couple of hours at most with your doctor each year and having a long life with your family versus being afraid of what might happen in case a serious condition is discovered at a later stage. 

 

 

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