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Prostate cancer screening: A discussion, not a schedule

When it comes to cancer, we hear a lot about early screening. And for the most part, that’s great advice. But times are changing when it comes to prostate cancer.

As it turns out, many cancers of the prostate develop so slowly that treatment might not be needed. So the American Cancer Society and other experts no longer recommend set screening times.

Instead, men should talk with their doctors. Together, they can decide based on each man’s risk factors. Those include:

  • Age.
  • Family history.
  • Ethnic background.
  • Diet.
  • Overall health.

Screening is generally not recommended for men older than 70 or those who have serious health problems. In these cases, the benefits usually don’t outweigh the risks.

If you decide on screening.

There are two common screenings. One is a blood test to measure prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The other is a digital rectal exam. For this test, the doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate. If these tests show possible signs of cancer, the next step is a biopsy.

What to watch for.

Prostate cancer usually has no symptoms early on. Later symptoms can include:

  • Blood in the urine.
  • Problems with urinating.
  • Trouble getting an erection.
  • Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet.

But remember: Other conditions can also cause these symptoms. And most are less serious than cancer. See your doctor to get the right diagnosis.

Start the conversation.

Ask your doctor about screening around age 50. If you’re at high risk, ask about screening around age 45. Those at high risk include:

  • African American men.
  • Men who have a father, brother or son who had prostate cancer before age 65.

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