What is a prostate exam?

A prostate exam is a screening to determine if there are any prostate issues including prostate cancer. The prostate gland is a male reproductive organ that produces semen — the fluid that carries the sperm when a man ejaculates.

What are the types of screenings for prostate cancer?

There are two screening tests for prostate cancer including:

PSA test
Typically, under 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood is considered normal. Using the PSA test results alone is not a good indicator of whether a man has prostate cancer because all men are different. A man with a PSA above 4 could be completely healthy, whereas a man with a PSA under 4 could have cancer.

Digital rectal exam
A digital rectal exam is a manual test where the doctor feels the prostate from inside the rectum.

What can you expect during prostate exam?

During a PSA test, your doctor will take a blood sample and send to a laboratory for analysis. Results can be ready as quickly as 24 hours or take as long as a week after blood is taken.

During a digital rectal exam, your doctor will insert a lubricated finger into the rectum and he or she will feel the prostate to check for any abnormalities. Although the procedure will likely be uncomfortable, it should not cause severe pain or damage any internal structures. 

If your doctor finds any abnormalities, he or she will discuss further testing such as a prostate biopsy. A prostate biopsy can determine if you have prostate cancer.

How often should you have a prostate exam?

Men over the age of 50 who are not high risk for developing prostate cancer should inquire with their doctor about when to receive a prostate screening.

Men at higher risk for developing prostate cancer may need to be screened starting as early as 40 years old. African American men or men with a family history of prostate cancer are more likely to develop prostate cancer.

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