The prostate gland is a gland about the size of a walnut which surrounds the neck of the bladder in male mammals. It is just in front the rectum and produces a fluid that is a component of semen. As men age, the risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer is increased. It is the most prevalent cancer that affects males and it is not quite clear why men become more prone to this illness as they age. As a result of this, it is highly recommended that men have their prostate checked on a regular basis. To eliminate the fear of prostate exams that some males may have, this article will answer the question "What is a prostate exam?" and tell you what it is really like.
What Is a Prostate Exam?
The examination process usually begins with a series of questions to obtain necessary information regarding any current or potential issues that you may have with your prostate. Issues such as dribbling (slow leakage of urine after emptying the bladder), blood in the sperm or urine, straining to urinate or a weak urine stream should be mentioned at this time. It is important for you to be completely honest with the physician, so your condition can be assessed accurately. Do not forget to mention any history of prostate cancer within your family.
Your doctor cannot take a direct look at the prostate because it is an internal organ. As a result, two tests may be done:
1. DRE (Digital Rectal Exam)
Most people are familiar with this method and most times when the question "What is a prostate exam" is asked, this is the procedure that is often explained. In this type of examination, the patient is told to undress and get in a position where the anus can be accessed easily. Preferred positions are lying on the side or bending over the examination table. The doctor usually inspects the external area of the anus for haemorrhoids, lumps and rashes. To conclude the examination, a lubricated finger of a gloved hand will be inserted into the rectum. This activity should not be painful but some men may not feel comfortable with the procedure. It is very important to note, however, that the benefits of having a prostate exam far outweigh a hurt pride.
2. Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Blood Test
PSA is a protein substance that usually increases when prostate cancer is developing or after it has developed. This substance is found in the semen but can also be detected in the blood. Due to this, it may be used as an indicator of prostate cancer. So when asking "What is a prostate exam" this should also be included. It is important to note that a high PSA does not necessarily confirm the presence of cancer; neither does a low PSA level guarantee the absence of prostate cancer. But, it is currently one of the best ways to detect abnormalities that may lead to prostate cancer.
It has been indicated that the PSA level is usually higher than 4 ng/mL when prostate cancer develops and lower than 4 ng/mL for a healthy male.
The PSA test is a blood test that needs drawing blood usually from the arm and the results are often ready in a few days.
Who Should Do a Prostate Exam?
There is no absolute consensus when males should begin to routinely test for prostate cancer. It is highly recommended that, apart from asking questions such as “What is a prostate exam”, men should speak with their doctors about the positives and negatives associated with being screened. If you are unsure about whether you should begin doing regular prostate exams, consider the following options:
- If you are at average risk, you may begin discussion with your doctor at about age 50.
- If you are at high risk, you should begin to schedule your prostate exams at about age 45. You may be considered high risk if you have an immediate relative who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65.
- If you are at an even higher risk, you should begin screening at about age 40. You will be at great risk for prostate cancer if you have more than one immediate relative who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age.
What to Expect If You Need a Prostate Cancer Exam
If your DRE or PSA test shows an abnormal result, your doctor may suggest that you do other tests to confirm whether or not you have prostate cancer. It may be recommended that you do an ultrasound and/or a prostate biopsy.
The ultrasound will collect images of your prostate. These images will then be assessed for abnormalities consistent with prostate cancer. The prostate biopsy involves the collection of prostate tissue (using a thin needle) which is analysed for cancer cells.
Below is a video about more detailed info of prostate cancer: