The importance of prostate checks for men over 50 (and what you can expect!)
Like cleaning the gutters and giving the dog his eye drops, a visit to the doctor can be a chore many men would rather avoid.
But, just like an annual car service can pick up small issues with your engine before it breaks down, regular health screenings and tests are the best way to detect serious health issues early on, get any treatment you need quickly, and continue living a healthy, happy life.
Like it or not, cancer is something that many men will face as they age. Almost 40% of men will be diagnosed with cancer at some stage in their life.1 Unfortunately, advancing age is a risk factor for many cancers, which is why it’s so important to stay vigilant to any changes in how we feel and access the available tests and screenings.
So, for men who would rather unblock the drains than step inside a doctor’s office, what are the tests needed to make the effort to have, and why?
Prostate health tests
The test that most men avoid and let’s be honest, dread, is getting the prostate checked.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s talk facts.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer (after lung) in men globally,4 meaning it’s not smart to ignore potential warning signs. This becomes even more important with age – almost 60% of prostate cancer diagnoses occur in men over the age of 65 years and risk factors start to climb from the age of 50.5
Symptoms of prostate cancer can include:
- Frequent or the sudden need to urinate
- Blood in semen or urine
- Discomfort or pain when urinating
- Pain in the lower back, thighs or hips
It’s important that you see your doctor as soon as you can if you notice any of these symptoms or are concerned. As with most cancers, early detection is key for survival and long-term quality-of-life outcomes.
When it comes to testing for prostate cancer, you’ll be pleased to know the first step only involves rolling up your sleeve. A blood test called a PSA (prostate specific antigens) will determine if there are elevated levels of a protein that can indicate prostate cancer. If there are, your doctor will likely recommend a digital rectal exam.
If you’ve never had a rectal examination, then chances are you’ve overestimated how awful it will be. Knowledge is power and it’s worth knowing what you’re walking into so there are no surprises.
Here’s what you can expect during your prostate screening:
- Your doctor will ask you to undress from the waist down and get onto all fours on the examination table. They will usually leave the room or draw a curtain around the table while you do this.
- Your doctor will put on some rubber gloves and, using a small amount of lubricant, will insert one or two fingers into the rectum to feel for any abnormalities in your prostate.
- The whole process will last 30 seconds to a minute, tops.
Is it going to be fun? No.
Is it going to be a bit awkward? Yes.
Could it literally add years or even save your life? Absolutely!
Depending on what your doctor finds they may conduct further tests, such as an MRI or biopsy.
While you’re with your healthcare provider, it's also worth talking about enlarged prostates, especially if you are experiencing symptoms. According to the UK’s National Health Service, “the cause of prostate enlargement is unknown, but it's believed to be linked to hormonal changes as a man gets older”. The good news is there are solutions that include lifestyle changes such as cutting down on alcohol and caffeine, medication such as alpha-blockers, and surgery. Talk to your doctor about the best option for you.
While some recommended health checks are going to be a walk in the park, others are more involved and could require you to take a few deep breaths.
However, investing time and attention into your health is never going to be a bad move. Just like that classic car in the garage, you want to keep your engine running well for a long time, so make the time for a tune-up today.
Disclaimer: Any procedure including treatments involving radiation carry risks, including skin irritation and associated pain. Before proceeding with a referral for treatment, patients should be advised to seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner. As in any medical procedure, patient experiences and outcomes will vary.
- National cancer Institute. Global Cancer Statistics. Available at: www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics.
- Siegel R, et al. Cancer J Clin 2020; 70(3):145-164.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. About the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Available at: www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/national-bowel-cancer-screening-program/about-the-national-bowel-cancer-screening-program#bowel-screening-can-save-lives.
- Rawla P. World J Oncol 2019; 10(2):63-89.
- Prostate Cancer UK. Am I at risk of prostate cancer? Available at: prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/are-you-at-risk.