Prostate Cancer 101: When and why you should get screened


by Jerry Barker, MD, FACR

Sep 9, 2020

For many men, growing older also means you’re growing in confidence, opportunity and achievement. You’re reaching new career goals. You’re feeling great pride as you watch your children reach milestones of their own. You’re enjoying life and learning daily, every year looking slightly different than the last. 

Of course, with age also comes responsibility, and caring for your health and body — particularly your prostate — should be at the top of every man’s list.  

First things first — let’s learn some science and statistics. After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men. Invisible to the human eye, it develops in the prostate gland, which is located deep inside the male body. 

While there are often no symptoms during the early stages, regular screening allows us to find the cancer early while it is still easy to treat. We encourage all men to do so for their own health and well-being. 

Guys, here’s what you need to know about prostate cancer and what you can expect when you come in for your screening.

Prostate cancer screening recommendations

Per the recommendation of the American Cancer Society, men should consider getting screened starting at age 50. However, there are a few exceptions based on individual risk factors, including:

  • Race/Ethnicity: Certain races are at higher risk of developing prostate cancer, such as African American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry. Men in this high-risk category should talk to their doctors about screening starting at age 45. 
  • Family history: If you have or had a first-degree relative — such as a father or brother — diagnosed with prostate cancer, you should begin screening at age 45. If you have more than one first-degree relative who has or had prostate cancer at an early age, you should begin screening at age 40. 

Though it is apparent genetics and family history are important considerations, all men have some risk of developing prostate cancer in their lifetime — and all men should therefore keep up to date with regular screenings.

Related: My winding journey with prostate cancer

How prostate cancer screening works

Once you’ve made the first step in deciding to book an appointment for screening, you may wonder what prostate screening entails. The most frequently used screening test is a blood test for prostate-specific antigen, or PSA. PSA is a protein made by cells in the prostate gland; when the level of this protein increases, it indicates the presence of prostate cancer. 

The other type of screening test performed is a digital rectal examination, or DRE. During this examination, a physician places a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum — which is located next to the prostate — to feel for any abnormal areas on the prostate gland. 

The good news? Both of these tests can be completed within just a few minutes. Talk to your doctor about what type of screening and cadence make sense for you.

Symptoms of prostate cancer

Prostate cancer that is diagnosed early is the most treatable and typically causes no symptoms at all. If prostate cancer is discovered at an advanced stage where it has grown in size or spread throughout the body, symptoms that may arise include: 

  • Blood in urine 
  • Blood in semen 
  • Swelling in the legs or feet
  • Bone pains anywhere in the body 
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue

When it comes to prostate cancer, it is key to educate yourself now, rather than later.

Ready to schedule your prostate screening? Talk to your primary care physician or find one near you. To learn about our comprehensive COVID-19 Safe Care plan, visit

About the Author

Jerry Barker, MD, FACR, is a radiation oncologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center All Saints – Fort Worth.

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