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If You Find Prostate Cancer Early…

By on September 30, 2014

Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in men and is a leading cause of cancer death in men, second only to lung cancer. The American Cancer Society’s estimates about 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed and more than 29,000 men will die from the disease by the end of this calendar year.

The goal of screening for prostate cancer is to find it early, in the hope that it can be treated more effectively.

Prostate cancer can often be found early by testing the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in a man’s blood. Another way to find prostate cancer early is the digital rectal exam (DRE). For this exam, the doctor puts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland. These 2 tests are described in more detail in the section “What tests can detect prostate cancer?”

Screening can help find many prostate cancers early, but there are limits to the prostate cancer screening tests being used today.

Neither the PSA test nor the DRE is 100% accurate. These tests can sometimes have abnormal results even when a man does not have cancer (known as false-positive results). Normal results can also occur even when a man does have cancer (known as false-negative results). Unclear test results can cause confusion and anxiety. False-positive results can lead some men to have a prostate biopsy (with small risks of pain, infection, and bleeding) when they do not have cancer. And false-negative results can give some men a false sense of security even though they actually have cancer.

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Also, if screening detects a cancer, doctors often can’t tell if the cancer is truly dangerous.

Finding and treating all prostate cancers early might seem as if it would always be a good thing, but some prostate cancers grow so slowly that they would probably never cause problems. Because of an elevated PSA level, some men may be diagnosed with a prostate cancer that they would have never even known about at all. It would never have led to their death, or even caused any symptoms.

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